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Sen. Rarick responds to questions on ambulance-only tax levy

After receiving comments from constituents about the Cloquet Area Fire District's proposed tax increase last December, Sen. Jason Rarick explained his view on why the cap on the tax levy was removed.

Jason Rarick
Jason Rarick
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CLOQUET — Just over a week after the Cloquet Area Fire District Board voted to send a letter to local representatives about the ambulance-only tax levy, state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, issued a statement about the removed cap on the levy.

The removed cap brought concerns among residents in ambulance-only areas in the district, like Thomson Township, when their taxes for the district were proposed to increase by 300% last year.

After numerous meetings in December, the board decided to keep the tax rate the same for 2022, while planning on accurately detailing the cost of the ambulance service to the ambulance-only districts.

In order to address pending legislation and be on top of possible state funding, the Cloquet Area Fire District created a legislative committee.

Rarick explained in a column submitted to the Pine Journal that the increase was due to an error in a tax bill years earlier and the correction was made last year through legislation he authored.

“This wasn’t a punitive tax increase or any other effort to increase residents’ tax burdens, but instead a correction to resolve a tax error made in the past,” he said.

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While the change had some residents with large increases in their taxes, Rarick said it was a phased process over two years and brought the district in line with ambulance taxing districts in Minnesota.

While the cap was in place, Rarick said there was an incorrect categorization that allowed some residents to pay less than they should have and others paying their share and more to make up for the deficiency.

“Ultimately this reform was the right solution for the district,” he said.

During its meeting Feb. 16, the fire district’s board voted to send a letter to Rarick as well as state Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, stating its support for not reinstating the levy cap.

Board Chair Linda Way told members during the meeting the local representatives had been hearing thoughts about reinstating the cap.

While Way accepted any comments from board members about possibly reinstating the levy cap, all in attendance voted to issue a letter in support of not reinstating it.

Jason Paulson, Thomson Township supervisor and member of the fire district board, said understanding the costs of the ambulance service is the first thing the district needs to do before talking about a cap on the levy.

“(We) have to be able to show on paper why we are losing money on this and need to increase the levy for that,” he said.

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Paulson resigned from the fire district board in October over the proposed levy increases to residents in ambulance-only areas. He was reappointed earlier this month as Carlton County’s representative, but could not attend February’s meeting.

Paulson added insurance revenues from ambulance calls go into the district’s general fund and are not detailed as to how much is brought in on each call.

Fire Chief Jesse Buhs told the board during the last meeting the district is planning to have more accurate reporting of costs and revenues for the ambulance service for the upcoming year.

Should the district be able to lay out the details of the revenues and expenses for the ambulance service, Paulson said Thomson Township residents would be more than willing to pay their fair share.

“That is going to be goal No. 1, is to reset the accounting system so that we can more accurately capture true costs of providing EMS to surrounding communities,” he said.

READ MORE BY DYLAN SHERMAN
The new business opened a physical location in Cloquet in August and offers a range of dog grooming and training services.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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