WILLMAR -- When Kandiyohi County property owners open their tax statements later this month, they'll get a double dose of bad news.
Not only will many property owners see an increase in taxes, they will also receive a "special alert" about the threat of zebra mussels invading county lakes, a threat that could result in higher property taxes for all taxpayers in the future.
In unanimous action Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed to include a flier about zebra mussels with property tax statements that will be mailed out within the next three weeks.
With colorful photos and simple-to-understand messages, it's hoped the flier will get the word out about the real threat zebra mussels could pose for county lakes.
The razor-sharp shells can destroy beaches, alter aquatic food chains and spread diseases that can kill loons and ducks, according to the flier.
Property values have already dropped on Minnesota lakes infested with zebra mussels, which reduces a county's tax base and increases property taxes for all property owners.
Besides information about the harm zebra mussels can cause, the flier also provides a check list of how to prevent zebra mussels from spreading from infested lakes to lakes that are still clean.
"I'm sure people will pay attention to it," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson, who has been advocating for stronger inspections of boats and stiffer fines for violators.
Peterson was the only county commissioner to serve on a statewide committee that worked with the state Department of Natural Resources this winter to develop action to slow the spread of zebra mussels.
Like many local officials from Minnesota's lake country, Peterson has been disappointed with the lack of legislative leadership and absence of state funds to address zebra mussels.
Commissioner Harlan Madsen said state legislators seem to be presenting roadblocks to preventative action by not supporting increasing funds. He said legislators are "sidestepping" their duties by not addressing the invasive species issues. "I find that reprehensible," he said.
Local entities are taking action on their own, Peterson said, adding that the lake association from Cass County developed a flier on zebra mussels that will be sent with property tax statements there. He recommended the same be done in Kandiyohi County and asked the commissioners to find the approximately $5,100 to print the fliers and pay for additional postage.
The flier will "help bring attention to the zebra mussel, which is a big threat," Peterson said.
"The education piece is very important," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl. Sending the fliers out with tax statements will ensure that most county residents will get the information.
"Maybe it'll take their mind off their tax statements," quipped Chairman Dean Shuck.
The flier uses some information developed by Cass County along with additional photos and information pertaining to Kandiyohi County that were added by Bill and Ann Latham, of Spicer, who have been lobbying for action to keep zebra mussels out of Green Lake -- one of the most popular lakes in the region.
Peterson thanked the commissioners for agreeing to use funds, including money from the water planning task force, to cover the costs of the fliers.
"It may not prevent it, but at least we're doing something," he said.
"We can't afford not to do this," said Commissioner Jim Butterfield. "Lakes are important to Kandiyohi County."
Peterson said Cass County is also considering additional action, including increasing boat inspections and closing boat accesses. Kandiyohi County may also have to consider those steps in the future.
How do we prevent zebra mussels from spreading?
The most important thing to do is clean off boats and trailers whenever leaving any access site. Because zebra mussels can attach to aquatic vegetation, remove all aquatic plants from boats, trailers and motors. Inspect boats for visible attached mussels, particularly in the stern, trim tabs and lower unit areas. Bring boat engines up to operating temps, this will kill the heat-sensitive free swimming larvae. It is illegal to transport zebra mussels on boats and trailers.
In other action the commissioners:
- Agreed to keep the fees for conducting property assessments for townships and cities at $10 per parcel for at least one more year. A motion to raise the rate to $11 per parcel was defeated on a 4-1 vote.
- Set public hearings for April 5 and 6 for the redetermination of benefits for eight county drainage ditches. The commissioners heard a brief report on the ditches. They will take action following the public hearings.
- Accepted the annual report by Veterans Service Officer Trisha Appeldorn and approved a two-year, $11,000 grant agreement that will include billboard advertising.
- Accepted a $300,000 grant for low-interest loans for upgrading non-conforming septic systems in the Crow River Watershed district.
- Approved a $14,384 grant agreement with the state for water safety patrol.