Local watershed districts to be realigned

Carver County Board takes steps to revise some boundaries, tax impact applies

By Melissa Priebe
[email protected]

The boundaries of several watershed districts are one step closer to being revised, after the Carver County Board approved a request for support from affected cities and townships on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
In 2016, Carver County staff proposed changes to the boundary of the Water Management Organization, that would effectively relocate parcels of land in the Minnehaha Creek and Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed Districts so that they fall under the management of Carver County.
“The essential goal of this is to better align the taxing boundary of the watershed districts, mainly Minnehaha Creek, Riley Purgatory and the WMO, to what the actual water drainage is along that boundary,” said Paul Moline. “The boundary has not been updated really since 1967, particularly along Minnehaha Creek when that watershed district was created.”
Moline said the watershed districts were created before the Carver County Water Management Organization was laid out, and the changes in drainage since the creation of the watershed boundaries haven’t been accounted for.
The main area in question was a swath of land in between Victoria, Chaska and Chanhassen, but the changes, if they are implemented, could have tax implications for landowners in the affected area. The proposed changes would need support from area cities and townships, before they would be proposed to the State of Minnesota.
“They did do an amendment to the legal district in 1997, but really nothing has happened since that time,” said Moline. “We didn’t really have much of a role in that legal description when it was pulled together.”
Since the inception of the watershed districts and the creation of their boundaries, many changes have impacted the land in eastern Carver County. In the last 20 years, many developments, subdivisions and landscaping changes have occurred on the landscape.
“It’s resulted in some confusion,” said Moline. “The WMO really has a lack of input on projects that drain through the water resources we’re responsible for maintaining.”
When drainage issues arise, the WMO is not able to conduct projects, review permits or offer any cost-sharing related to properties outside of its district. Moline pointed to Lake Bavaria, which falls under the responsibility of Carver County in terms of water management. What the current boundaries don’t account for is the water that flows into Lake Bavaria from upstream. He indicated that watershed districts tend to focus on water that drains into key water resources.
“They don’t get quite as interested in areas that don’t drain to their water resources,” said Moline.
After conducting research into the project, Carver County staff used a GIS process to look at the parcels that currently fall on the boundary of the WMO and evaluate the flow of the water. Where more than 50 percent of the water drained into the Carver County management area, they recommended boundary changes.
“We identified parcels that are currently sort of taxed incorrectly, if you want to call it that,” said Moline, noting that depending where a parcel of land fell within the watershed boundaries, the tax impact on landowners could change.
Out of the affected land area, 384 parcels would switch to CCWMO, 17 parcels would switch to MCWD and 38 parcels would switch to RPBCWD.
“If you’re wondering why the balance is so skewed here, i really think it’s fairly simple,” said Moline. “Those watershed districts were established first, a long time ago. I think when they were drawing the boundary, they probably erred on the side of taking in more land than less.”
If the boundaries were relocated as proposed, Carver County would manage more of the land in terms of water drainage, through the WMO. The good news is that the move would also come with a lower tax impact for most residents in the affected area.
“Any permit rule ordinance requirements that are in those districts would come along with that,” said Moline. “So if a parcel’s currently in Minnehaha Creek and is subject to their permits, and they switch to WMO, they’re now subject to WMO permits. The other piece is the tax rate.”
The difference in tax rates would decrease for any land that is being absorbed into the Carver County WMO district, but it would likely double for any parcels that were moved out of the management of Carver County.
“Minnehaha Creek and Riley Purgatory, at least in the last few years, have had a higher taxing rate, so those parcels that are switching will be impacted by that,” said Moline.
He said the changes, if approved, wouldn’t go into effect until 2018. However, he gave an estimate based on current-day tax rates of what those changes might look like.
The example, estimated by 2016 tax rates in each watershed district, showed a change of .91 for Carver County WMO, 1.77 for Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and 1.83 for Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District.
“A vast majority of parcels, the estimated tax impact would go down, anywhere from $25 to $27 on an average home annually,” said Moline. “There would be a handful of parcels switching the other direction.”
Commissioner Gayle Degler asked if there was a way for the public to get engaged in the process. Moline said as the changes move forward, landowners can request a hearing with the organizations involved.
“I think it’s very prudent on our part to notify the landowners,” said Degler. He said people might not read the public notices, and even if they do, they might not catch how it would affect a parcel of their own land.
Moline said letters will be sent to landowners, but the letters will not include specific tax impacts, because the tax rates for 2018 are not yet known. He said Carver County staff could help residents with tax impact questions, if they arise.
In the next steps, Carver County will seek official support from communities, cities and townships that are affected. Then they would notify affected landowners, and the measure would come back to the Carver County Board for approval, in order to petition the State of Minnesota to implement the boundary changes.
The Carver County commissioners approved the request to approach cities, communities and watersheds for statements of support.

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