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Easement may create opportunities for Farmington schools

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Farmington School Board members are expected to make at least a preliminary decision Monday about whether to sell a conservation easement for as much as half of a property the district owns in Castle Rock Township.

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The easement in its biggest form would take up as much as 86 acres and bring the district an estimated $312,000 from Dakota County, which is trying to create a conservation corridor along the Vermillion River.

The easement would also likely bring with it some costs, because the district would be expected play a part in restoring habitat in the area. But finance director Carl Colmark said those costs might be minimal because the district could partner with outside groups to get the work done.

"In the end I do not believe we will see any negative impact to our district financially," Colmark told board members at their April 8 workshop meeting. "This could be a win-win for our district."

There could be some other benefits to the district, too. Currently, Colmark said, the district pays $10,000 per year in property taxes on the Castle Rock Township land. If board members go ahead with the large easement, the bill would go down by half because half of the land would be off-limits for building. If the district is able to demonstrate educational benefits to creating the easement those property tax payments could go away altogether.

Currently the district leases the land, its original site for a new high school, to a farmer who pays $22,000 per year.

School board member Julie Singewald suggested last week that the district use the money it would otherwise pay in property taxes to provide a scholarship for staff members who come up with educational uses for the land.

"I would really encourage us to look at a way ... to utilize what we potentially would spend," Singewald said.

Board members will likely give direction for the property at their April 22 meeting. But that action will not set in stone the easement's future. The vote will indicate the district's willingness to move forward, which will allow county staff to take the issue to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners to look for support.

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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