The Aitkin County Board gave a nod of tentative approval for a new Aitkin County ATV ordinance at its Nov. 9 meeting, but sent the item back to the ATV committee to discuss how to handle public comments.
The county’s ordinance is going to require riders to “keep it in the dirt,” meaning not to ride the ATVs on the road but rather on the soft shoulders.
The ordinance will apply to Class I ATVs along all paved roads with some corridor road access. Class II ATVs (larger ATVs) will be allowed on the tar surface but must stay to the far right side.
The item had been before the county board last month, but had been tabled in order to clarify questions about the ordinance.
The main concern raised at the October meeting was the struggle of some areas not having clear soft shoulders, either due to high grass or obstructions.
“A bunch of us thought it would be simpler to stay in the dirt,” said Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida, who is a proponent of the “keep it in the dirt” idea.
“The enforcement’s a nightmare,” said Guida, adding that the soft shoulder allows for separation from road traffic. “It really does keep people safe by keeping them off the roadway.”
Concerns were raised by county board members that younger riders would not have the experience to make judgment calls while riding, such as how to maneuver around mailboxes or obstructions.
Guida said that the soft-shoulder compromise is to keep all drivers safe, and young drivers do need to obtain certification to ride legally.
State Sen. Carrie Ruud and State Rep. Dale Lueck both made an appearance at the meeting to discuss the upcoming regular legislative session and to give commissioners a chance to share their legislative priorities.
Both Lueck and Ruud touched on the budget shortfall the state is looking at due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the range of $5 billion.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” said Ruud. “I think it’s going to be very controversial.”
Both suggested that the county would likely be seeing a reduction in help from the state.
County Administrator Jessica Seibert gave a brief update at the meeting, after being out of the office. Seibert said that the Aitkin County Budget Committee was looking at the potential of using more fund balance to try and counter the expected property tax hike of 4.89%. However, with the report from Ruud and Lueck, Seibert said that approach may need to be rethought.
PROPERTY TAX DESIGNATIONS
Aitkin County Assessor Mike Dangers gave two reports at the board meeting, the first on what will be a temporary tax change for 2021.
About 15 properties in Aitkin County are having their classification changed from residential to commercial class because they rent their property as a vacation rental.
Dangers explained that the change is happening for one year, and then the classifications will revert back to residential, due to a change in state law saying vacation rental properties are not commercial class for taxes.
The law change is not retroactive so the 15 properties are facing a one-year tax increase.
Also, Dangers put out a call to the county board for anyone interested in training to serve on the Board of Appeal and Equalization, to undergo training to participate. Currently, the county has just one person trained, and a backup.