County board disapproves of JOBZ tax waiver

By a 3-2 vote March 5, the Chisago County Board of Commissioners decided to express an opinion against a tax waiver for a building in North Branch that used to be home to Topline Automotive.

This building, at 40245 Fletcher Ave., is now under the control of a bank holding company, and Lakes Region EMS has said it wants to move into the building.

When Topline had the building constructed in the North Branch Industrial Park, it did so with the aid of JOBZ, a state program that gives tax breaks to qualifying businesses that are willing to set up shop outside of the metro.

As a result of Topline going bust, there is about $80,000 in unpaid tax benefits that the building’s current or future owner might have to pay.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue contacted both the city of North Branch and the county to find out their opinions on a “claw back” of that money, or if they’d favor a waiver of that money.

At its Feb. 24 meeting, the North Branch City Council unanimously approved of a waiver.

At the County Board, Commissioners Ben Montzka, Mike Robinson and Lora Walker voted against a waiver.

Commissioners George McMahon and Rick Greene didn’t support the motion against the waiver.

“I’m just concerned about doing it,” Montzka said. “The bank is now the owner, correct? The bank, to some extent, should have kept track of that, because it’s something that’s an anticipatable expense.”

McMahon said he wasn’t ready to make a decision one way or the other.

“There are issues here that the state has to look at because of JOBZ,” he said. “I’m just not really ready to say I’m not going to approve this until I think we’ve got it straightened out.”

County auditor Dennis Freed stressed to the board that the Minnesota Department of Revenue was simply asking the opinion of North Branch and the county, and it is the ultimate authority when it comes to making a decision on the claw back.

“Even if we vote yea or nay on this, it doesn’t mean it’s going to end up that way, anyway,” he said. “It’s all up to the Department of Revenue. That’s my understanding, anyway.”


In other news

• The board heard a report from Chisago County Director of Health and Human Services Nancy Dahlin in which she noted how many MNsure cases the county has processed. She said about 325 files have come to the county so far through the health care initiative. Dahlin said open enrollment for MNsure ends March 31.

• The board unanimously approved of a BAIR Analytics IT Project for the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office.

“It allows us to move onto our new policing approach of intelligence-led policing by looking at hot spots throughout the county where crime is occurring,” Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan explained. “It allows the community to look at issues that may be happening in the community to help us do our job and fight crime more efficiently. It upgrades our technology.”

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