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Minn. counties prepare for the worst over tax mistake that could cost them millions

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POLK COUNTY, Minn.—A big oil company says they're owed millions and millions of dollars and it could be up to local counties to make it right.

Enbridge has multiple petroleum pipelines passing through Minnesota, cutting across Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake, Polk, and Clearwater Counties.

Here's the problem: Enbridge says after a change in the way the state taxes energy companies in 2012, they were overcharged millions of dollars.

Polk County commissioners discussed it this week, ahead of a court case in October.

"We are preparing for the worst case scenario," said Chuck Whitling, Polk County Administrator.

If Enbridge wins, Polk county will have to repay $1.8 million in tax refunds, and they aren't the only ones.

According to Enbridge, Marshall County would owe $1.4 million, a quarter of their budget.

Red Lake and Kittson Counties would each owe $3 million.

For Kittson County? That's a third of their budget.

Clearwater County would owe nearly $7 million, more than their entire budget for 2017.

An Enbridge spokesperson says they'll give the counties the time they need, but that's not a lot of relief for leaders like Chuck Whitling.

"The decision happens so far after the fact that once we've levied money, we basically only levy for an operating budget. And this is our highest valued property. So Enbridge is our highest valued tax payer. So to suddenly come up with 3 years of tax refunds on 2012, 2013, and 2014 probably in 2018 is problematic," said Whitling.

So now Polk county is doing some calculating, and bracing for a bill they know will be hard to pay.

Minnesota lawmakers are working on a plan to get local counties off the hook, saying that the state is to blame, but bill sponsors are not optimistic.

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