Hot topics for the County Board in the year ahead are issues like these.

    • Replacement of the elevator in the Government Center:

    This will involve how access to services located on the upper floor of the building will be made available during several months of the construction process. Work on the $118,000 project cost will start soon.

    • Reroofing, HVAC upgrading and remodeling of offices in the Human Service Center in East Grand Forks:

    Remodeling is being planned in phases to accommodate the movement and location of offices during construction. This work will start yet this winter. Another project, the re-roofing of the Highway Department building, is planned this summer.

    • Final outcome in the Enbridge pipeline valuation dispute:

    The Tax Court has ruled that the valuation of the pipeline — as determined by the Minnesota Department of Revenue and not by Polk County — was in excess. Even though Polk County had no part in determined the faulty valuation, it will end up being liable for some part of a sizeable tax rebate. Enbridge is appealing the tax court’s ruling.

    •Likelihood that Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project will finally get the last of the permits needed to begin construction:

    As this happens there is the real possibility that there will be some spirited opposition to the project.
About finances in general

    About 30 percent of the property tax is used by Polk County to maintain services and facilities. The balance of the tax goes to cities, school districts, townships, watershed districts, etc. to finance their operations.

    The county has a total spending budget for 2020 of $67.7 million of which $42.4 million comes from the federal and state governments to finance the programs that they have initiated through legislation.

    The $24.3 million that is collected from property taxes along with county fees, grants and the use of fund balance will finance county operations.

    The $24.3 million amount, which is levy-dependent, is an increase of 3.35 percent over 2019. The County Board tries to keep spending increases in the range of inflation, or something close to 3 percent.
More on the finances

    On the plus of the finance subject is the fact that the $17.5 million in bonds sold in 2005 to finance the construction of the Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail will be paid off in 2026.

    The jail was a part of the $25.5 million Justice Center building project that was completed in early 2008. Of that total project, $8 million was for the Justice Center portion of the building. It was paid for in cash.

    In addition to the jail, the Justice Center building houses the District Court system, the County Attorney’s Office, Public Health, and the Tri-County Community Corrections (TCCC) administrative offices and its Probation Department.

    A side note to this accounting is the fact that TCCC, which operates the jail for Polk, Norman and Red Lake counties, has more beds than are needed to house inmates from the three counties. These extra beds are made available to jurisdictions that do not have enough bed capacity of their own. The “per diems” paid to Tri-County to rent these beds more than equals the annual bond payments.

    Construction of the jail has been a good investment. First, because the per diems pay for the debt service on the bonds. Second, because there is no longer any need for TCCC to have to send prisoners to other jurisdictions because of over crowding. In the final year of the old jail, that cost totaled a whopping $430,000.
Still more on finances

    The county sold $3 million in bonds in 2015 to update buildings. That work included converting previously unused space in the in the Justice Center for the County Attorney’s Office and for relocating Public Health there from rented space in Crookston to the space that the County Attorney’s Office had left.

    These bond funds were also used to replace the 50-year-old original boilers in the Government Center and to create meeting and workspace in the former Stenberg Building in Fosston for the Resource & Recovery Center and for a satellite office there for the Sheriff’s Department.

    On a 10-year repayment schedule, these bonds will be paid off at about the same time as the jail bonds, or in about 5 years.

    After that the only debt that the county will have will be the final 5 years of payments on the $3 million in bonds that will be sold in February to finance the East Grand Forks Human Services building project and to replace the Highway Department roof in Crookston.

    The time is not far off when the county will be debt-free with no real building issues on the table. I’m thinking that we will need to have a party when that happens.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.