Assessor: Tax break would hurt

FAIRMONT – A bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature seeks tax exemptions within the ethanol industry, something Martin County Assessor Dan Whitman says would create an inequity.

The bill would exclude fermentation and liquefaction tanks as “real property,” and exempt them from property taxes.

“A similar bill was introduced last year, but it did not receive a hearing,” Whitman told Martin County commissioners Tuesday. “This year, it was reworded and reintroduced by different legislators, and it’s already had a hearing and could be introduced in an omnibus bill.”

Whitman has argued against the bill at the Capitol, both as a representative for the state’s assessors organization and representing Martin County. The Association of Minnesota Counties has also testified with concerns about the bill.

“You are going to see inequities [if the bill passes],” Whitman said. “In Martin County, the biggest problem would be a substantial shift to homes and small businesses, and on ag. It’d be on everyone but the ethanol plants.”

He cited the town of Welcome as an example. If the bill were to pass, about 13 percent of the town’s property would become exempt from property taxes.

“It’s changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Whitman said. “These ethanol plants were built under one set of rules, and now they want to be taxed with another set of rules.”

A?main argument Whitman and other assessors have used against the bill is a ruling by the Supreme Court, which defined fermenting and distilling structures as taxable.

“It came from a ruling on sugarbeet plants,” Whitman said. “Those are very similar tanks and it gave us a clear definition … These 1 million gallon tanks are buildings, not just a piece of equipment.”

Commissioners took no action Tuesday, but stated they had sent a “strongly worded letter” against the bill when it came up last year. Commissioners verbally agreed to discuss sending another “strongly-worded letter” to state lawmakers who represent the Fairmont area.

In other business, commissioners:

o Approved the re-hiring of Gary Engler for the seasonal position of caretaker for the county parks. The position lasts for eight months from mid-March to mid-November. Engler has served as the parks caretaker in recent years.