State bill ensures local appeals, equalization authority

Local government scored an important victory earlier this month, as the Minnesota State Legislature passed HF 244, a bill that preserves local control for townships across the state. The legislation was authored by state Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) and passed by unanimous approval in the senate.
Under state law, one member of a township board must complete state-mandated training to retain the township’s appeals and equalization duties, which grants town boards the power to determine whether property in the township has been properly valued and classified by the assessor for taxation purposes, and to field complaints.
Previously, town board members had until Feb. 10 to complete their state-mandated training, which is administered by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. If local boards failed to complete their training by the deadline, the township would forfeit those powers to the county government.
This deadline was exacerbated by the fact that the Department of Revenue was not offering the required training for months prior to the Feb. 10 deadline. Additionally, a board’s trained member has to be present at every board meeting, which means that if the trained member died, moved out of town or lost re-election, the board was forced to relinquish their authority to determine appeals and equalization matters.
In order to relieve this issue, Westrom’s bill extends the deadline for the township boards.
“This bill was requested by the townships ...d because of people having to quit for health reasons or other purposes, they weren’t able to get the training in,” Westrom said. “This gives them an exemption and allows them to continue that local board of equalization for their township properties, rather than have it change over to the county.”
The previous law, in one way or another, affected numerous townships. In one local instance, a member of the Ashley town board had to miss the funeral of a loved one in order to avoid losing local control due to the law.
“It is my opinion that the state and counties of Minnesota would love to see townships go away as they have in many states. I would hate to see this happen,” Ashley town clerk Sandra Michels said. “Living in rural areas is very different than in towns or cities. Local control gives a voice to those of us who would not have one otherwise – so many issues are unique to rural lifestyles.”
Westrom said the Minnesota Department of Revenue is working to make more training sessions available so that any further complications are avoided down the road.

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