On Tuesday, I was in St. Paul for a House Agriculture Committee informational hearing on the drought situation and aquaculture farming in Minnesota. You can view the hearing at this link. We continue to battle the drought. Over the next 2-3 weeks, we will see just how badly crop yields have suffered as we complete the fall harvest season.
After the hearing, we visited the U of M’s St. Paul campus, including the veterinary diagnostic laboratory, food processing research center, aquaculture and fisheries research center and the livestock research and training center.
I was pleased to see investments that the legislature has made in equipment and research projects are paying off. Minnesota is a leader in the ability to do environmental background testing for chronic wasting disease, the vet lab has increased through put on a wide variety of animal disease tests, research continues on aquaculture ranging from the golden shiner bait fish shortage to farming food fish and shrimp.
Thursday found me in Carlton County attending the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) District One Conference. District One includes Aitkin and counties north and east up to the Canadian border. It provided an opportunity to get an early look on the many issues facing our counties. At the conference, commissioners shared issues and discussed solutions, including recommendations for potential legislative action in St. Paul.
At the top of the district one’s list is resolving the growing disparities in the payment in lieu of taxes program (PILT). The payment structure is complex and has somewhat morphed from its original intent which was to provide local property tax relief in rural counties with large amounts of tax-exempt public lands.
The PILT program compensates for local property tax revenue that cannot be collected on public lands, in particular DNR and tax forfeited lands.
Regardless of who owns the property, counties, townships, and school districts must provide roads, bridges, law enforcement, fire and ambulance services, K12 education and a variety of other items within their jurisdictions.
Those services are paid for by local county, township and school district property taxes paid by private property owners. In Aitkin and Crow Wing counties and further north large swaths of public tax-exempt lands exist. We need to look hard at the current the PILT program and consider adjustments to more appropriately compensate rural communities for the services they provide.