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County board discusses request for 'profit & loss statements'

Heidi Doo-Kirk
Heidi Doo-Kirk

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Oct. 24. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There was one local resident who spoke during the public comment period of this week’s county board meeting. District 1 Resident Arvis Thompson spoke about her concerns over the look and feel of the county and community. Thompson said Cook County resembles “Disneyland” and that too many people are walking around looking for fun. That is not the reality of what the county is, Thompson said. She also noted that the county spending tax dollars on items like 640 acres for bicycle paths is an example of trying to fit this new look and feel of the county.

“We're going down a path that doesn’t seem like we’re protecting anything,” she said. “We're sacrificing everything that we have for a dollar and that dollar is called a tourist.”

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Myron Burhsiem pointed out that the county has no current plans to devote 640 acres of land to create bicycle paths.
Profit & Loss Statements
As the regular meeting started, Cook County Assessor Todd Smith spoke to the commissioners about Profit & Loss Statements that were requested from the county’s numerous resorts. As some local business owners were concerned about submitting this information, Smith pointed out the request for profits and loss was voluntary, meaning the reports were not required for submission. Smith said about 40 to 50 percent of the resorts are returning the profit & loss statements.

Smith said the information is confidential and would be kept in a locked safe with the assessor being the only individual who will see it at the county level. The purpose of obtaining the profit and loss statements from local resort owners is to assist with the process of determining property values for resorts in Cook County. Smith said this is not a separate tax on income for resort owners, citing that almost all properties that generate income are valued by this process.
Commissioner Ginny Storlie said the request from the Assessor’s office created a strong, and in some instances negative reaction from local resort owners. One West End resort owner did not want to return a profit and loss statement and found it to be an unusual request, Storlie said. Furthermore, the process of how the information was requested was “tacky,” she added, indicating hand-written Post-it notes that were added to the documents the county sent out.

Smith said the county has a new means of doing appraisals. They can now do income based appraisals, or determine property values based on a number of factors, not just land and property value. Neither the county nor the state require profit and loss statements from local resorts.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson said as a local business owner the request for a profit and loss statement would be somewhat unsettling.

Again, Smith highlighted the fact the request for the statements was not required, and the only purpose in obtaining the information was to assist with the appraisal or tax assessments of local resorts. In the future, he noted, the county will likely use a formula for resorts to figure property values that does include income and other variables.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk asked if vacation rentals would be considered under this scenario at some point. Smith said vacation rentals are currently classified as “seasonal recreation,” and would therefore not fall under this category at this point.
Meanwhile, Smith said, there have been major inconsistencies in how resort properties were assessed in Cook County. And as a number of local resorts have sold or changed hands in recent years, having reliable and consistent means to assess property value is extremely important, according to Smith.
Brian Silence
Continuing with news from Tuesday’s meeting, Brian Silence from the maintenance department came before the board requesting a new vehicle for the county. Silence said a county owned vehicle recently broke down in the field and needs to be replaced. The commissioners approved a request to purchase a new truck for the county at the cost of approximately $30,000.

In more news, Silence reported that the local Legion is placing a memorial plaque for Don Wilson, known locally as “Smasher,” during a Veterans Day commemoration at the courthouse. The plaque will be placed near the flag area outside the courthouse.
Bill Lane
Bill Lane from the Land Services Department spoke next during Tuesday’s meeting. Lane brought forward a request for a conditional use permit to be approved for a local family on property near Schroder. The permit would allow the family to build a third residential property on their land adjacent to High Ridge Drive. The commissioners agreed that the request from the family to develop the land, which sits near Lamb’s Resort and the Superior Hiking Trail, was sufficient and approved the request unanimously.
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell brought forward a request that the board approve mailing supplemental information along with property tax statements. The additional information Cadwell mentioned is a packet created by the county that details how county funds are spent. The information will also be posted on the county’s website and is essentially a document with charts, figures and various information about where tax dollars are spent in Cook County. The board unanimously approved the idea to include the document in the mail next month.
Bakk and Ecklund
Following the regular meeting of the county board, state Representative Rob Ecklund, Steve Peterson from IRRRB and state Senator Tom Bakk met with the county board and other community members to discuss a variety of local issues. Ecklund and Bakk were in Cook County for a number of local events and to take tours of facilities that received state or bonding funds for local projects. Among those tours were the hospital and the new public works facility for the city of Grand Marais.

The commissioners, county staff and community members also exchanged updates and ideas on a number of local projects, including bonding for the Gitchi-Gami Trail and a boat ramp in the Grand Marais Harbor.

Bakk and Ecklund provided an update on state funding for the Legislature. With the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton deadlocked on a state budget, funding for the state government remains in question for 2018. Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk questioned how a government shutdown in St. Paul could impact county governments. Senator Bakk said it would likely have marginal impacts on the day-to-day functions of county governments, but it would certainly not be good on many levels if the state Legislature shut down.

“This is very dangerous,” Bakk said of the potential government shutdown in the state government.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk.