2/25/2019 2:53:00 PM Cass County Board: Auditor-treasurer offers year-end report
MONICA LUNDQUIST Cass County Correspondent
BACKUS-Cass County Chief Financial Officer Sandra Norikane opened her auditor-treasurer annual report presentation to the county board Feb. 19 with a description of personnel changes made in 2018.
The payroll and benefits and human resources job divided into separate full-time positions, with the payroll accountant post remaining in the auditor-treasurer office. The human resource position was moved from the auditor-treasurer office to the administrator's office.
The result is Administrator Joshua Stevenson did not replace his administrative secretary after a retirement, but, instead has a full-time human resources person. Existing auditor-treasurer personnel have assumed some of the administrator's office secretarial responsibilities.
The auditor-treasurer's office used to have one employee assigned to process incoming and outgoing mail for the entire courthouse. That position was eliminated, so the auditor-treasurer office now has one less employee than a year ago.
Health, human and veterans services personnel who process their mail in their building now also process courthouse mail at the courthouse. Each department in the courthouse can come to the courthouse mailroom during any regular business hours to pick or send out their department's mail.
The auditor-treasurer's office receives all main line calls to county offices now. This year, the county will install a new phone system, which will have a menu to direct callers to various departments. Norikane said this should result in fewer calls ringing in the auditor-treasurer office, partially, because a large percentage of calls come for the court administration and would be redirected to that office without ringing first in the auditor-treasurer office. Midterm elections brought a higher than average number of calls to the courthouse in 2018, she said.
In 2018, auditor-treasurer employees mailed 38,632 tax statements to 30,662 property tax payers of record, Norikane said. After a state phase-in over several years, now all delinquent tax properties become forfeited after three years. Some used to take five to seven years to forfeit.
Cass had 38 parcels forfeit for non-payment of taxes in 2018, with one repurchased within six months. The county sold 14 of 26 forfeited parcels offered for sale at a June 23, 2018, auction and another 18 parcels during the year, which were sold over the counter at the land department office. Beginning in 2019, the annual forfeiture date will change from Aug. 31 to Aug. 15, Norikane reported.
People wishing to work out a payment schedule to catch up on back taxes can sign a confession of judgment, then repay over the time set in the judgment. At the end of 2018, Cass had 72 confessions of judgment. During the year, 11 new contracts were accepted. Six paid off their judgments, and four defaulted. The county approved 20 property tax abatements, which resulted in a $7,666 net decrease to taxing districts in the county.
The tax court ruled in favor of energy company Enbridge's abatement filing May 5, 2018, reducing Enbridge's property value by 4.15 percent for tax year 2013, by 21.25 percent for tax year 2014 and by 39.05 percent for tax year 2015. The state appealed this on behalf of local governments where Enbridge has pipelines. The court of appeals sent the issue back to the district court. Other tax year cases are still pending in court.
Because the state sets utility line values, local governments affected by this case have maintained the state should pay any refund ultimately due to Enbridge. Current law states the local governments would forfeit the lost tax revenue.
The auditor-treasurer office updates parcel ownership maps, collects deed and mortgage registration taxes and files electronic certificates of real estate values. An increasing number of people are filing deed and mortgage taxes electronically. Currently, about half pay by paper and half, electronically.
Former Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson became the county's first election administrator in 2018 and was assisted by one existing employee. The county purchased updated optical scan ballot counters and switched to Poll Pad electronic voter rosters. Norikane said she expects Anderson to retire in 2019.
There has not been a significant change in the number of marriage licenses, notary commissions or birth certificates the county has issued in recent years, but there has been a steady escalation in the number of death certificates issued.
The auditor treasurer issues about 40 to 45 licenses each year for tobacco and for liquor sales, but there has been a gradual decline over the last six year for beer sale licenses from about 33 to about 23. The office also issues less than five licenses each annually for auctioneer, mass gathering and fireworks.
Cass now writes fewer paper checks to vendors. In 2019, the county will make even more electronic payments with the installation of new software.
The state auditor's annual audit of Cass County financial records hit a peak cost in 2015 of $98,979, but declined to $63,380 in 2018. Cass has $5 million at local financial institutions in checking, savings and certificates of deposit accounts.
At year end, the county's investment portfolio had just over $71 million in assets, brokered by three different national firms. That money was invested in U.S. government agency securities, negotiable certificates of deposit, revenue bonds and in a joint powers entity established to allow Minnesota counties to collectively pool their investment funds to yield higher return rates.
Most investments mature in less than five years.
Second publication rights after Brainerd Dispatch.