Regional Rail Authority considering transfer of all responsibility to Morrison County

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

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The Regional Rail Authority (RRA), comprised of the Morrison County Commissioners, is considering the dissolution of the board and the transfer of all responsibility to Morrison County.

The Regional Rail Authority responsibilities include the ownership and management of the old Soo Line Corridor. The reason the RRA was formed in 1990 was due to a federal requirement that, in order to negotiate and purchase a railroad corridor, it had to be done through a rail authority.

“Creating the RRA allowed us to negotiate the purchase and receive grant dollars to offset some of the purchase costs,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.

The requirements have now been met and the separate governing body is no longer needed. Dissolving the RRA and bringing its functions into the general business of the county has been discussed for the last number of years based on recommendations from the state auditor and staff.

“The main reasons the county is considering this move are: the governing board of the RRA is the exact same as the county — the full Board of Commissioners; the annual audit would be included with the county audit instead of a separate entity, thus reducing expenses for taxpayers; required insurance costs would be reduced as they would be included with the county instead of a separate organization; and the business will be conducted during a regular Board meeting and through the typical channels of all county business.

“All of these changes will reduce the time, effort and cost of documenting, retaining and meeting the same requirements for a separate entity,” Gruber pointed out.

The sticking point is that the levy to meet the responsibilities will shift from the RRA to the county. The 2012 levy for the RRA was $82,300 and appeared as a separate line on tax statements under special taxing districts. If this change is made, the special taxing district amount would no longer exist and the levy will be collected within the county total.

“Ultimately if this change takes place in an effort to do business more efficiently and cost-effectively, taxpayers would need to understand that even though the county levy appears to be increased, it is directly offset by the fact that dollars are not being collected via the special taxing district,” Gruber said.

“At its meeting Tuesday, the RRA tabled the decision until the end of August to give themselves some time to review the recommendation,” said County Auditor Russ Nygren.