The following article was written by Mark Weber, Director of Land & Minerals, and Barb Hayden, Director of Planning and Economic Development. It was originally published in the Hibbing Tribune on November 1, 2017.
Did you know that in St. Louis County, we have approximately 900,000 acres of state tax forfeited lands? That’s almost 20 percent of the County’s total area. It’s the job of the Land and Minerals Department to manage that land.
For some tax forfeited properties, based on their remote location, the best use is as habitat for wildlife, or as recreational area for county residents and visitors. This land is also an important source of timber for the forest products industry. In fact, most tax forfeited land is kept for forest management. Tax forfeited lands that have been harvested are reforested either through natural regeneration or by planting.
At the same time, we are always looking for opportunities to resell and develop properties if that’s their best use. We want those parcels back on the property tax rolls.
Three times a year we offer a public land auction of tax forfeited properties – typically in February, June and October. The three auctions in 2017 together brought in just over $1.4 million dollars. Additionally, any property that doesn’t sell at auction can be purchased for the assessed value over the counter in our office. We’ve sold more than $817,000 worth of tax forfeited properties that way so far this year. Still more properties have been sold to various government units, while other smaller parcels have been sold to adjoining property owners. The grand total of all these land sales over the last 10 months is $3.47 million.
This is significant for several reasons. With each sale, we expand the property tax base, help neighborhoods and communities clean up blight and encourage economic development, and distribute remaining funds after county expenses to school districts, city or town where the sale was recorded.
The tax forfeited properties for sale include houses, commercial spaces, developable lots, lakeshore and recreational land. In recent years we’ve increased our efforts to work with cities to identify tax forfeited properties that could be sold and redeveloped. Some of the lots have always stood empty, but others have to be cleaned up to improve their value and make them easier to sell.
The County Board has prioritized in recent years cleaning up blighted, tax forfeited properties. It’s a worthwhile investment because when a neglected building sits empty, it looks bad and can attract additional problems ranging from small critters to criminal activities. Working in partnership with various cities and local governments, as well as the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, we have been seeing real success. We are able to clean up problem properties to preserve quality of life in neighborhoods, plus go a step further to address community development needs and expand the tax base.
When the county takes possession of a property as the result of tax forfeiture proceedings, we first review the property to determine the best course of action. If a property is salvageable, it is put up for sale “as is” via public auction. But often, these properties have been so badly neglected they are beyond rehabilitation. Many of these forfeited structures require extensive cleanup, contain hazardous materials, and have been identified as a neighborhood and public safety concern. In that case, remediation is needed, followed by demolition, and ultimately, redevelopment.
We try to avoid empty, unused lots in the midst of an otherwise healthy neighborhood. The challenge is always to find funding for this work. Thankfully, the County Board is supportive, and recognizes the importance of correcting blighted conditions and stabilizing neighborhoods.
As mentioned earlier, properties that aren’t sold at our land sale auctions can be purchased at any time from our Land and Minerals Department. Currently, we have about 20 properties in Hibbing and Chisholm, including houses, empty lots that are buildable, and a few parcels where dilapidated structures were removed.
You can see the full list of properties that are available for purchase, learn more about the work we do, and sign up to receive email notifications about future land sales at stlouiscountymn.gov/landsales.