Assessing the situation on ag land in Douglas County
The numbers are in and agriculture land value in Douglas County is on the rise. Douglas County Assessor Keith Albertsen explained how the values were calculated and who it's going to affect at the February 12 county commissioners' meeting in Alexandria.
"We have had just a tremendous spike in ag land values this year," Albertsen said. "We have seen a huge increase in tillable values."
Previously assessed values per acre on tillable land ranged from $1,760 to $2,600. Albertsen said that same land is selling for more than $4,000 per acre now. Value notices will be mailed to residents this spring. Some landowners will see a 50 percent value increase on their tillable acres.
"That's an extreme, but it's out there," Albertsen said.
Each year the assessor's office reviews land sales between October 1 and September 30 from the previous year to determine the sales ratio which will affect values in the upcoming year. The 2013 assessment year ended with a 77.61 median ratio from 61 total sales. Rejected sales were removed from the equation resulting in 34 sales that are eligible for the state study. The median ratio became 76.12 percent - 24 percent lower than Minnesota requirement.
"The point that we're missing the most on is the tillable [land]," Albertsen said.
Six sales were at a state acceptable range for the 2012 ratio period. Five of those sales had buildings on the property.
Albertsen said the assessor's office spent considerable time trying to figure out a way to increase the ratio to a state acceptable range. Buyers and sellers motivations along with commodity prices may affect the outcome of the assessment next year.
"We can't change the [sales], we have to react to the [sales]," Albertsen said.
The full 2013 Ag Land Assessment report can be viewed on the county website.
HIGHWAY SAFETY PROJECT
Douglas County entered into a joint powers agreement for the administration of a federal Highway Safety Improvement Project grant with Becker, Clay and Otter Tail counties to define each county's obligations regarding a district-wide federal highway safety project.
All four counties are in the Minnesota Department of Transportation district four region. Otter Tail County has been designated as the lead agency for creation and coordination of project development.
Safety improvements including chevrons, rumble strips and stripes and ground-in wet reflective paint are planned for eligible highways. Douglas County routes include the intersection of County State Aid Highways (CSAH) 33 and 5 in Lund Township, a corner on CSAH 11 near County Road 52 in Carlos, a portion of CSAH 42 and County Road 120 in Carlos and Alexandria, part of CSAH 23 and 4 in Hudson and CSAH 10 along Lake Osakis in Osakis.
The safety improvements are to be provided by one single construction contract. Funding will be 90 percent federal. Douglas County's share is an estimated $13,700. The total project cost will be determined after the grant is submitted and bids for work are received.
KENSINGTON PARK ADDITION
Senator Torrey Westrom submitted a letter of congratulations recognizing Douglas County Parks Superintendent Al Lieffort on successfully securing grant funding for Kensington Park. Westrom said he commends the staff and hopes future efforts will be equally rewarding. Douglas County was awarded $337,600, the total amount needed, to purchase an additional 84 acres. The existing park spans 305 acres.
North Memorial Health Systems Regional Manager Rick Wagner updated commissioners on annual ambulance activity.
Wagner said North Memorial Ambulance responds to more than 3,200 calls throughout Douglas County every year. Twenty-five people are employed from around the county who staff five ambulances. The company has been involved in mock-crashes with the Alexandria area high schools for the past 15 years.
North Memorial is a self-sustaining company that does not receive any public subsidies, Wagner said. He added that often he hears that the rates are high, but clarified that the company only collects 45 percent of what is charged.
"We write off a great deal every year," Wagner said. "If we don't transport, we do not bill."
North Memorial has provided service in Douglas County since 1996. The nationally accredited company has been in business for 50 years.
West Central Community Actions (WCCA) presented its annual update which included more than $2.7 million in support to Douglas County in 2012. The most notable contributions were in energy assistance and weatherization. Households served totalled 2,655 in the county overall with 1,488 receiving energy assistance and 130 weatherization projects.
Throughout the West Central region (Clay, Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, Wilkin, Otter Tail, Wadena, Becker, Norman and Polk counties), 15 households were served by the Housing Counseling Program; $1,237,000 in home loans were obtained. Ninety-one households avoided foreclosure by receiving $8,729,588 through the Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention program. The Tax Clinic helped return $963,000 to 652 households.
More than 10,000 households were served by WCCA in the region at a cost of $8,787,903.
A 20-county joint powers agreement was agreed upon by Douglas County commissioners for the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership. Douglas County Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs said Supporting Hands provides intensive home care services for first time low income pregnant women and their children up to the age of 2. Commissioner Dan Olson sits on the Nurse-Family Partnership board.
Douglas County staff provides support services. The county will be reimbursed up to $16,500 for staff time and administrative costs.
"It's a fantastic program," said Commissioner Bev Bales.
The 20 participating counties include: Big Stone, Chippewa, Douglas, Grant, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Pipestone, Pope, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Yellow Medicine. McLeod county hosts the program.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.