Homeowners give county board an earful over property tax hike

There’s still time for the Olmsted County Board to pull back from the 5.9 percent tax levy increase commissioners plan to approve in Rochester tomorrow. But the odds appear to be slim to none, even after a recent truth-in-taxation meeting covered by the Post Bulletin in which strapped property owners pleaded for a break.

Doris Amundsen questions whether older Olmsted County residents will be able to stay in their homes amid rising property taxes.

“You better start building more affordable senior housing, because we seniors will not be able to afford these kinds of increases and will need to live elsewhere,” said the Rochester resident, who was the first among nine property owners to raise concerns to Olmsted County commissioners during Thursday’s truth-in-taxation hearing.

Amundson is facing a 30.3% increase to her property taxes, which will add an estimated $496 to her 2023 tax bill.

County officials ran taxpayers at the hearing through the basics of how and why the tax levy must increase yet again, driven by market forces they have no say over. As a fallback, they also pointed the finger at the requirement for local governments to make sure property valuations are always jacked up high enough to meet a state benchmark.

Commissioner Jim Bier pointed out that the county is required to routinely adjust estimated property values so they remain within a 5% margin of what is seen in the housing market, which has seen prices increase in recent years.

Wilfredo Roman-Catala, Olmsted County’s chief financial officer, said median sales prices in Rochester rose 11% this year, which is below what has been seen in surrounding communities, which include a 17.3% increase in Stewartville and a 39% increase in Oronoco.

“That’s something that is market related,” he said. “As we go out and try to buy a home, we are competing with other people and the county doesn’t have a say in it. That’s just the market doing its thing.”

Olmsted County’s 5.9 percent increase actually falls on the lower end of the spectrum of Minnesota counties. Regardless, some homeowners clearly feel victimized by a system that enables the government to grow that much bigger by slapping them with huge, unanticipated property tax increases during an out-of-control housing market just “doing its thing.” Moreover, they face higher taxes at every other level of government, leading to fears of being taxed out of their homes.

“We need your help in this, and we need you to make sure your budgets are strong, and you’re not taxing us to the point that some of these people can’t afford to stay in their homes,” said Rochester resident Al Watts, whose primary concern was increased taxes on three unspecified commercial properties he owns.

Eyota resident Chris Mielke pointed to a specific concern related to a 170.3% increase listed as “all other current expenses” in county budget information included with proposed-tax notices sent to property owners.

“I’d like more of an explanation,” she said of the nearly $31.2 million expense. “We are kind of all in this together. We need to make Rochester and Olmsted County a place where people want to come to and can afford to live here.”

Elected officials never seem to get enough of waxing on about affordable housing. Except at truth-in-taxation hearings, where the impact of their policies could make the difference in whether some constituents can afford to remain in their homes.