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Keeping the peace: Council says personal issues are separate from meetings

Ranier Mayor Dennis Wagner reminded residents Tuesday that personal conflicts need to be left out of city council meetings.

For that reason, Barry “Woody” Woods was interrupted by Wagner and other residents during the council’s committee meeting while reading a letter from resident Sharon Ball, who was not in attendance.

“I don’t want to bring personal business into council business,” Wagner said. “I understand everybody has a right to say what they want to say and do what they want to do... I’m going to make sure everybody tries to respect everybody’s opinion...I have the right to gavel people and keep this civil for the good of everybody here.”

What Woods was able to read of the letter said Ball felt victimized by resident Sue Swendsen over opinions of city growth and development, including the possible construction of a dock known as the safe harbor/ transient dock. The potential project would accommodate boats longer than 26 feet and is aimed at increasing public access for boat recreation.

Wagner said he understood Ball’s position on the project, as well as others that may differ from hers.

“We’re trying to do city business here, (Ball’s) opinion is valued as anyone else’s,” he said. “The city encompasses many different personalities and ideas, and it may not fit your cup of tea, if it’s for the good of the city, that’s what we’re entrusted here to do... It may not always be what you want and when you want it... we’re trying to do the best for the majority of the people.”

In related business, the council will also take into consideration resident’s opinions and ideas when it addresses parking issues on Spruce Street, the city’s main roadway.

With the construction of new businesses in Ranier, parking can get congested, making it hard for some residents in the area to park in front of their homes. Some homeowners have requested signs that would reserve parking in front of their residences.

Wagner said while the idea will be considered, the council has to remain fair; if it reserves parking for one household, it may have to do it for others.

Future public meetings will be held to inform residences of the potential to implement diagonal parking and what associated costs would be.

“There’s a lot of considerations,” Wagner said. “It’s not just getting a couple parking lanes... you have to get a design right that satisfies most of the wants, if not all of them... It’s not just a quick decision.”

The council also Tuesday tabled appointments to the city’s planning and zoning commission until Wagner can review applications.

“I’m really thankful we have eight applicants for these positions,” Wagner said of the four expired terms.

The mayor will nominate four members which will need final council approval.


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Fire safety starts young
hannaho / Staff Photos by Hannah Olson  

Kindergartener Ella Growette gives firefighter Tommy Baron a hug. Children were given an opportunity to interact with the firefighters in their gear Tuesday morning.

The International Falls Fire Station was filled with children obviously excited and ready to learn about fire safety Tuesday morning.

The visit coincided with National Fire Prevention Week.

The second graders, first graders, and kindergartners listened to presentations about fire safety, saw firefighters suit up into their protective gear, and were able to walk through a fire truck.

“What do we do if our clothes catch on fire?” Fire Chief Adam Mannausau asked the first graders, “Any guesses?”

An enthusiastic, “stop, drop and roll” came from the crowd. One first grader ran to the front to demonstrate, rolling on the ground and shielding his face.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Kindergarteners check out the features on a fire truck.

The children seemed well-versed on the concept of “stop, drop and roll,” and many of the well-known ways that fires can start.

“What are some other (fire) hazards in our house that we need to be worried about?” Mannausau asked.

He highlighted some of the lesser-known ways accidents can occur, such as overheating electronics or getting in the way of a parent cooking in the kitchen.

hannaho / Staff Photo sby Hannah Olson  

A first-grader shakes hands with firefighter Tommy Baron, center, while firefighter Justin Chezick looks on.

“Does anyone have a LeapPad or a tablet or a cellphone or anything like that?” Mannausau asked.

Hands shot up around the room.

“Those can get really hot sometimes. We want to make sure that when we charge those, we set them on a hard surface like a table or a counter top,” he explained.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson 

Firefighters Justin Chezick and Tommy Baron, at right, put on their gear in front of a group of kindergarteners.

The children were encouraged to go home and remind their parents to check the batteries in household smoke detectors.

“These are all things you can go home and tell your parents about and sound really, really smart,” he told the kids.

Two firefighters, Tommy Baron and Justin Chezick, suited up into full gear and shook hands with the students so they could see that firefighters are nothing to be afraid of, even when they are wearing helmets and ventilation masks.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

Kindergarteners react to the sounds of a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector going off.

Children were then able to explore the inside of a fire truck, and many seemed impressed by the bright lights and features.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

First graders line up to high-five firefighters Justin Chezick and Tommy Baron.

Fire Prevention Week was enacted in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge, who determined it would be held annually during the week of Oct. 9, in commemoration of the “Great Chicago Fire” which occurred on Oct. 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

Students line up to climb through a fire truck.

hannaho / Staff Photo by Hannah Olson  

Students line up to check out various emergency vehicles, while firefighter engineer Jared Baldwin tells them about safety equipment.

It was held this year from Oct. 6-12.


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Public lands assist Koochiching County taxpayers, again

Koochiching County taxpayers will again get more than $2 million in tax burden relief, a benefit of having a large amount of public land.

Next year, Koochiching County will again receive $2.83 million from the state's Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. The county received about the same amount for 2019.

County Land Commissioner Nathan Heibel reported to The Journal this week that the money will be distributed, based on Minnesota law and the county budget, as follows:

  • Property tax reduction: $2.249 million
  • County Development Fund, derived from Consolidated Conservation lands: $78,892
  • ISD #362: $46,671
  • County Resource Development: $184,336
  • General revenue fund: $271,548

Heibel pointed out the public lands in the county provide a variety of benefits, with just one of them the PILT money.

"In Koochiching County, we have a high percentage of public land ownership overall that provides many benefits to many people," he said. "PILT is a great funding tool to help the county offset the costs of providing public services to what is otherwise tax-exempt land and helps to reduce the overall tax burden on local tax payers on lands that are there for everyone’s enjoyment."

The 2018 PILT payments to Minnesota's 87 counties represented a $3.6 million increase over those made in 2017, largely due to legislation that increased the per-acre payment from $1.50 to $2 per acre on nearly 7 million acres of natural resources lands and county-managed tax-forfeited lands.

Koochiching County is among all 87 counties in the state to which the Department of Revenue recently distributed the annual payments, totaling $35.9 million in 2019. Counties receive payments ranging from $21,443 in Red Lake County up to $3.79 million in St. Louis County.

PILT is a property tax relief program that offsets tax revenues not collected on public lands, the state reports. The concept of paying counties to offset tax loss from state-land ownership goes back to the 1930s.

Counties have received PILT payments annually since 1979 in place of property taxes on 5.6 million acres of state-managed lands and 2.8 million acres of county-managed tax-forfeited lands. Money for the payments comes from the state’s general fund.

The state makes PILT payments on public lands including state parks and forests, scientific and natural areas and wildlife management areas, school trust lands, Consolidated-Conservation lands as well as county-managed tax-forfeited lands. Even lands that could never be developed and placed on the tax rolls are included in PILT calculations used to compensate counties.

"PILT is an important and consistent revenue source for counties, but the benefits of public lands for Minnesotans go far beyond these annual payments," said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen. "Public lands support local economies through timber and mineral production, provide space for outdoor recreation and tourism, create habitat for wildlife, and help provide clean air and water."

Every six years, counties provide the DNR updated assessed values for lands that determine PILT payments. The last reassessment took place in 2016. The assessment is done to figure the land values and types, which vary significantly in different parts of the state. An acre of swamp in northern Minnesota will not be assessed at the same value as an acre of prairie land in the agricultural part of the state.