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Commissioners approve resolution to push back county property tax penalties

The Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday took action to help alleviate pressures put on taxpayers by the COVID-19 virus.

The board voted unanimously to abate the penalties incurred from being delinquent on taxes. With the May 15 deadline coming up for first-half property taxes, those who can’t pay won’t be penalized until after July 15.

Commissioner Polly Glynn, co-chair of the finance committee, introduced the resolution to the rest of the board during its meeting Tuesday morning, reporting that a survey sent out to cities, townships and schools within the county showed a majority supported the move. As of Tuesday afternoon, 36 government bodies had responded to the survey with just over 80 percent in favor.

“I think that we have very limited things we as a county can do to support our business constituents that have been impacted negatively by COVID-19,” County Administrator Trish Harren said, voicing her belief that this was one of the few things the board could do.

The report from the finance committee included that it came to the collective agreement that this first payment won’t be the issue and that it was the right time to abate the penalties.

“May is not going to be our problem, but it’s the second half that is going to be an issue,” Glynn said. “There is some scuttlebutt that the governor will be pushing back on the legislature in order to do something statewide for all 87 counties.”

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Revenue announced that it was extending the grace period on sales and use tax payments, including tax payments for bars, restaurants and other businesses. That came when state and federal governments delayed the income tax due date to July 15.

However, when it comes to property taxes, things become less flexible. State law leaves little wiggle room for the Department of Revenue or local governments when it comes to changing that May 15 date.

However, county governments are actively looking at providing a tax payment cushion.

“This is pretty much what our neighboring counties are looking at,” Glynn said in referencing the postponement of penalties.

The board was unanimous in the thinking that a move needed to be done as soon as possible to make sure these entities are getting the help they need.

“My belief in the county here is we have really great people,” said Board Chair Jeff Baldus. “I really believe those that can (pay) will. Looking at what we can do, this is one small piece.”

And that’s something both Harren and commissioners are emphasizing.

“What we really want to focus on is those who can pay, please do, but if you are really having a hardship and unable to make your tax payment in May, you do have until July 15,” she said.

Austin Area Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Hansen praised the County Board’s decision.

“The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to have the assistance of Mower County Commissioners and County Administrator regarding property taxes,” she said. “Mower County’s 60-day penalty deferral for all classifications on property tax payments will help Austin area businesses through this very challenging time.”

The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce has joined the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other chambers from across the state in seeking a statewide 60-day deferment of property taxes. In a letter signed by 58 local chambers of commerce, tourism chambers and visitors bureaus from across the state, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce joined other groups in asking the Legislature to enact the extension by April 28.

“The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce is continuing our nearly 80 years of service to our members through our work to connect, promote and advocate for business in the Austin area,” Hansen said. “While our office is closed as we are not an essential business, our staff is continuing to work from our homes to provide guidance and support to our members.”

The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce has COVID-19 resources available at austincoc.com and on its Facebook page.

As commissioners moved to alleviate stresses at this point, the shadow of second half payments does still hang overhead. Baldus suggested that the county’s financial situation will be more difficult as the year goes on, a concern shared by other officials in the county.

— Michael Stoll and The Associated Press contributed to this story