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County denies motion to return 2016 tax dollars
Brooks Bulletin

In a 5-3 decision county councillors denied the return of $71,387 in 2016 property taxes to JBS Food.
The company had been assessed for a cogeneration power generating facility that was to be constructed by Blue Earth.
Although the company was assessed for non-existing assets they did pay their 2016 tax bill.
When the county learned earlier this year there had been no construction started, the funds were removed from the 2017 assessment roll.
“We don’t have the ability to go back to 2016 as the assessor and change their assessment,” said county finance manager Matt Fenske.
A document from JBS states the person acting on behalf of the company was not authorized to do so. The county disagrees with the claim.
“We have communication from Mark Rietsma of JBS in 2013 that JBS approves the submittals in response to request of Gordon Smilie, who was the contractor who submitted the (Blue Earth) development permit.”
The county also disagreed with the company’s claim that ratepayers receive a listing of all assessed properties.
“To be fair, the list that goes to JBS is over 1,100 records. It takes them some time to go through that and reconcile it but they were in receipt of those records,” Fenske said.
He added the Blue Earth records were sent to JBS representatives in July 2015 and March 2016.
Fenske said while the decision is specific to JBS any decision to refund all, part or none of taxes would set a precedent for other files.
“Typically property owners review the request for information the assessor sends.
“Any incorrect information is removed before we levy the taxes,” Fenske said.
Under the Municipal Government Act a municipality can cancel, reduce or defer all or a portion of taxes if it’s considered equitable to do so.
County assessor Kevin Halsted told council he received the details from Smilie with the Blue Earth information including the values and the completion date expectation in 2015.
In a separate email in which Halsted asked Smilie if the construction was completed, the email was returned undeliverable.
Another request was made by mail but there was no response.
The tax notice was sent out with a specific Blue Earth notification for the building. There was no appeal, no response.
“My assumption at that point is the power plant was operational based on what Mr. Smilie had told me,” Halsted said.
In 2017 the information again showed up on the assessment at which time JBS responded.
Councillor Lionel Juss said while the breakdown in communications is unfortunate, consideration has to be made.
“They are our largest taxpayer in the county. They did make a mistake somewhere, obviously, with the shuffle of the change in management that went on there,” he said.
He said at about the same time Blue Earth went broke, JBS was in a kerfuffle which likely caused the oversight.
Councillor Wayne Hammergren agreed with Juss stating the company is a good corporate citizen.
“I disagree. You do not base your decisions on whether somebody is your biggest taxpayer or whether they’re a good person or not. You got to base it on facts,” said councillor Anne Marie Philipsen.
She said if other errors have been made funds will have to be returned.
On the motion to refund all of the money, councillors Hammergren, Juss and Ellen Unruh voted in favour.
Councillors Philipsen, Tracy Fyfe, Brian de Jong, Huby Kallen and reeve Molly Douglass voted against the motion.
Councillors Clarence Amulung and Kelly Christman were not at Thursday’s meeting.
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