Bill would cap DNR land prices

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The $14 million price tag for more than 1,800 acres of land on the Mississippi River has drawn the scrutiny of Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), who wants to cap the price the Department of Natural Resources would pay to acquire land.

Wagenius sponsors HF2228, which would specify how much the DNR can pay. The House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee laid the bill over Feb. 21 for possible omnibus in a committee omnibus bill. There is no Senate companion.

Wagenius objects to the value placed on the land by Crow Wing County. The county assessed the land at between $2,000 and $2,500 per acre, but the state has budgeted to pay $7,045 per acre — about three times the county’s assessed price.

She said legislators “have to address the interests of the taxpayer.” The bill would cap purchases at the lower of two real estate prices — either 20 percent more than the county assessor’s estimated market value or 10 percent above the land’s appraised value. Exceptions would be allowed for when the commissioner determines the acquisition to be a “high priority,” but documentation would be required.

Bob Meier, assistant commissioner for policy and government relations with the DNR, said his department has “some problems” with the bill.

“In this day and age, we’re only interested in high-priority (land) parcels,” Meier said, adding that current law caps the price at 10 percent above the land’s appraised value.

Meier said justifying payment of higher prices would also create additional paperwork because language in the bill would require the DNR to document why the parcels are high-priority.