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Renville County rejects company's request to abate tax penalties

OLIVIA -- Embroiled in costly litigation over a separate tax issue, the Renville County board of commissioners were in no mood to approve a request by North Star Beef of Buffalo Lake to forgive penalties and fees it owes on taxes not paid in 2006 and 2007.

At their meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners denied the company's request to forgive the penalties and fees totaling $72,274.43.

Company officials re-opened the Minnesota Beef Processing facility in Buffalo Lake, and pledged to pay taxes still owed for 2006 and 2007 totaling $176,000. They had asked for forgiveness on the penalties associated with the two years.

The commissioners expressed concerns about the precedent that would be set if the penalties were forgiven. "We'd have people standing in line,'' said commissioner Paul Setzepfandt, Bird Island.

Shortly after the decision, the commissioners formally approved adding $150,000 to the war chest for litigation in the on-going tax dispute with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. The action brings to $903,000 the amount the county has appropriated for legal costs associated with the litigation.

The cooperative has challenged how the county assesses its property for taxing purposes. It has filed separate cases that have reached the district tax court, and Minnesota Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court. Those cases remain active, as do two combined cases recently heard in district court.

The commissioners noted that the outcome of the litigation is important not only to the county, but also to the Renville County West school district and township.

A district court decision on the sugar company's appeal for taxes payable 2007 and 2008 is not expected for six or seven months, according to a report from Glen Jacobsen, assistant county attorney.

He reported that the courtroom phase of the case concluded after 11 days of testimony. Both parties and district Judge Bruce Christopherson were to complete a tour of the property on Tuesday. The parties will be filing written arguments to the court once a transcript of all the district court proceedings is completed in 45 to 60 days. The transcript will probably total over 3,500 pages, according to the attorney.