County gets good ‘report card’ from auditor
Tuesday was “report card” day for Lyon County commissioners and administrators. Doug Host, a principal with Clifton Larson Allen, presented the findings of the county’s audit for 2017.
Host praised the cooperation of the treasurer/auditor E.J. Moberg and his staff. He observed that it was the first year Lyon County has ever been audited by anybody but the state auditors.
Lyon County Auditor-Treasurer E.J. Moberg added that changing to private auditor cost the county only 52 percent of the fees for using the state auditor, saving the county $24,000.
Host noted the county has experienced four consecutive years in which revenue exceeded expenditures in the General Fund, even though overall spending jumped $4.2 million last year from $30 million to over $34 million.
“Most of this increase [in 2017] was due to the highway user tax and the government center addition,” Host explained. “Overall, it’s a very clean audit,” he said.
There were two flags to report. The first flag had to do with publishing itemized claims.
The second flag was triggered by a new law requiring the county to specify who can transfer electronic funds. Neither flag was a major concern to the auditors.
The audit concluded that the county has overall reserves which could cover 4.93 months of expenses, which is just shy of the target of five months expenses in reserve.
Host said it demonstrates the county’s stability. He noted reserves had dropped about half a month from the previous year (5.36). It’s also a decrease from 6.34 months in reserve as recent as 2014.
“All in all, a good year for the county,” Host concluded.
IN OTHER action, the county board:
•Approved 2019 tobacco and liquor licenses for several retail establishments.
•Agreed to add a boiler to help heat the Law Enforcement Center.
•Accepted an engineering bid for Phase II development of Twin Lakes Park.
•Approved agricultural land rental quotes from local farmers.
•Granted a conditional use permit for a hog barn to be operated by Jerome and Tanner Differding.
•Conducted a public hear resulting in approval of tax abatements for four new housing constructions in Marshall, Balaton and Minneota for a period of four years.
County approves request to repurchase tax-forfeited property
For Barbara Myhre of 606 Soucy Drive in Marshall, Tuesday’s county board meeting wasn’t a day in court. But it felt like a courtroom waiting for judgment. This was the last resort to save her home. Myhre and her attorney appeared before the commissioners to plead for an opportunity to repurchase her home which she had forfeited to the State of Minnesota in May after five years of tax delinquency.
During this long period, she had not responded to numerous attempts from the county to contact her to address the issue.
County Attorney Rick Maes reported that his office had sent out two letters for the occupants to vacate the property.
Auditor-Treasurer E.J. Moberg reported that the (former) homeowner had made no attempt to contact his office during the process of forfeiture.
Myhre paid partial taxes in 2016 and 2018, but in accordance to law the payments were applied only to current taxes, not the back taxes which triggered the forfeiture.
The petitioner’s letter was accompanied with a cashier’s check of more than $16,000 to cover all the back taxes, assessments, penalties and fees to repurchase the home.
Commissioner Charlie Sanow challenged the Myhre’s claim of hardship: “What was the hardship for six years that you couldn’t call, stop and visit, or have any contact with our auditor’s office?”
Without waiting for a response, Sanow continued, “Our staff does a great job.”
“They spend a lot of time working on this stuff. To me, it’s really difficult to see them excluded from being able to help people. By you not contacting [them], that’s what happens. I’d like to know what was the hardship that made it so you couldn’t even call, write or visit?”
Greg Booker, who appeared with Barbara Myhre, responded that the Myhre family has experienced some financial reversals and there was a denial factor. In hindsight, the family should have contacted the county about the taxes.
He said Mrs. Myhre’s children have come up with money to help them repurchase the home. Sanow pointed out the embarrassment to the county commissioners of having to deal with this kind of thing. He lamented how hard the county had worked to prevent the property from going into forfeiture, even knocking on their door with offers of payment plans.
“And none of that stuff was addressed,” he concluded. Booker acknowledged the embarrassment of the board and added the embarrassment of the taxpayer having to come to a public forum to address this issue. Chairman Paul Graupmann asked about a plan going forward so this problem wouldn’t come back around. Booker responded that additional employment and the family’s vested interest will make a difference. Sanow commented that he didn’t see undue hardship here.
“I can’t tell you that it’s undue hardship. It’s blatant negligence which caused it.” “It’s your own actions which have caused this hardship. It’s a hardship which has been caused by the taxpayer themselves,” he said sternly.
After prompting by Chairman Graupmann, Barbara Myhre explained to the commissioners, “We invested everything we had and it went under.”
She apologized, “I put blinders on. I hid. I’m sorry. I just wanted everything to go away and I didn’t know how to handle this. I went into a hole.”
“I appreciate that,” responded Sanow. “And I appreciate the apology to E.J. In the future, if you get to keep this house, call. He’s easy to talk to. He’ll answer your questions. He’ll give you advice. He’ll work out whatever you need to work out.”
Sanow made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Rick Anderson, to approve the petition and have county attorney Rick Maes work out the legal basis for it.
After the vote was approved unanimously, Maes commented that the best legal justification for repurchasing the forfeited property would be a correction of injustice resulting from the forfeiture. The homeowner would have lost property valued at over $187,000.