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Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agrees that gravel tax should remain in place under new state laws

WILLMAR -- A gravel tax that was implemented last year in Kandiyohi County will continue, even though changes in the state law that went into effect Jan. 1 reduce the county's flexibility in disbursing the revenue.

Public Works Director Gary Danielson told the commissioners Tuesday that the gravel tax generated $61,000 in 2008. Of that, 70 percent was dedicated to county road and bridge projects. It's not all profit for the county, however, because the county paid $16,200 in taxes for gravel used on road projects.

Townships received the other 30 percent of the revenue.

Under the 2008 law, the county had flexibility in which towns received the funding. For example, townships that carried the burden of gravel trucks could receive part of the pot to repair roads, even if the gravel pits were not located in that township.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to split the township fund evenly between all 24 townships and all municipalities in the county, which means each entity will get about $500. Commissioners Richard Falk, Richard Larson and Dean Shuck voted yes and Commissioners Harlan Madsen and Dennis Peterson voted no.

Under the new state law, townships and counties will each get 42.5 percent of the total revenue but only townships where gravel is mined can receive the funding.

The state "sure gave the short end of the stick" to some townships, said Falk. He said it isn't fair that the money can go only to townships that have pits that are being mined. The legislative changes created an "undue burden" to other townships and villages, he said.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said the revisions indicate the Legislature "doesn't trust us."

The legislative revisions weren't all bad.

The tax rate the counties can charge for gravel mined in the county, and for gravel imported to the county, was increased. Instead of 7 cents a ton or 10 cents a cubic yard under the old law, counties can now collect 15 cents a ton or 21.5 cents a cubic yard.

Another positive change allows the county to take 5 percent off the top for administrative fees.

The revised law requires that 15 percent of the total revenue be put into a special reserve fund to restore abandoned pits. That generated discussion on what qualified as an "abandoned" pit. Madsen questioned spending tax money on a privately owned pit.

When they implemented the gravel tax last year, the county commissioners agreed to give it a three-year trial run, with annual reviews.

Even though they don't necessarily like being hamstrung when it comes to divvying up the funds between townships, the commissioners agreed to continue with the tax.

Also this week, the commissioners heard a comprehensive report on the different types of activities and programs conducted by the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District. The goal of the office is to "encourage the wise use of land and water to treat these resources in accordance with their needs for protection and improvement," said Rick Reimer, program coordinator.

The broad-based programs include restoration of grasslands, shoreland stabilization, wind erosion controls, wildlife habitat enhancement, environmental education and procuring conservation easements for the Reinvest in Minnesota program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Reimer showed visual examples of projects that solved soil and water erosion problems, including a new rain garden that was installed at the Willmar Senior High School. Another rain garden is planned for the high school and the county fairgrounds this summer.

Projects were also completed recently on Diamond Lake, Eagle Creek, Nest Lake and Shakopee Creek. The largest project the organization is involved with is the Grass Lake restoration project.

"We get a lot for the money we put into the program," Shuck said.

Also, the commissioners were informed that the oxygen levels are too low in Lake Wakanda for game fish to survive and therefore the aerator was being turned off to attempt a total fish kill to rid the lake of bullheads and carp. DNR officials said they're optimistic the fish kill will be successful. The lake will be restocked with game fish this spring.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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