Itasca County takes stand against proposal to reduce state trail funding

Britta Arendt via  Grand Rapids Herald-Review  Grand Rapids, Minn.

Itasca County has officially taken a stand on potential legislative action that would have significant impact on local recreational sporting activities.

Earlier this month, Itasca County Lobbyist Loren Solberg tipped the county board off on intentions of Senate File 2 which redirects funds from gas tax collections to the main transportation treasury.

Part of the bill strikes language allowing a portion of gas tax funds to be distributed to the use of off-highway motorcycles, off-road and all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and watercraft. Money collected through license fees for these recreational vehicles would still go toward the financing of trail maintenance and water safety programs, but these Grant-In-Aid funds would no longer be supplemented by portions of gasoline tax attributable to these vehicles.

Board Chair Terry Snyder put request for board action on Senate File 2 at the top of the agenda during Itasca County Commissioners’ Jan. 24 regular meeting. As a retired Itasca County sheriff’s deputy, Snyder could attest that the county’s boat and water safety programs depend “heavily” on the state funding.

After talking with local clubs, Snyder said “hundreds of thousands” of these dollars are used for purchasing trail grooming equipment and more to “keep our trails clear and safe.”

The rush to put the item at the top of Tuesday’s meeting was to take an official position before discussing the matter further with Representative Sandy Layman just moments later.

To add further reasoning on not supporting the proposed legislative changes Itasca County Land Commissioner Kory Cease said the gas tax dollars are “another important source of funding for forest access roads.”

Without this funding, Cease said the county would be unable to maintain these access roads.

In a vote of the four commissioners present (with Commissioner Mark Mandich absent with notice), the board voted to not support the current language in Senate File 2 as it relates to the elimination of Grand-In-Aid funds from the gax tax allocations.

“I know the folks up in the north have jumped on this quickly,” said Representative Layman when told of the board’s position.

Layman reported that, currently, there is no companion bill to Senate File 2 proposed in the House. She also believes the author of Senate File 2 is revising the bill.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Burl Ives commented that the seasonal snowmobile sport brings in about $10 million a year to Itasca County and that the tourism industry as a whole boosts the local economy by approximately $68 million annually, putting the importance of the recreational vehicle sports industry into perspective.

And, in regards to the boat and water aspect, Chair Snyder added that Itasca County is one of the largest counties for registered watercraft with 1,000 lakes.

In just a few weeks, the Minnesota United Snowmobile Association will hold its annual Winter Rendezvous in Grand Rapids with hundreds of snowmobiles from all over the region attending. The event is hosted by local clubs in the Itasca County Trail Alliance.