MN County Overestimates Property Assessments by $133 Million

When some say government should be run more like a business, it’s safe to assume they don’t mean Enron. But that sort of excess comes to mind when hearing about the over-the-top property valuations St. Louis County tax assessors tried to get by with earlier this year.

The Duluth News Tribune continues to expose the embarrassing financial fallout.

Property owners in downtown Duluth were thunderstruck when they opened statements from the St. Louis County Assessor’s Office a couple months ago only to discover the estimated market value of their buildings had soared.

Many of the increases were met with incredulity.

For instance, the assessor’s office initially valued the Board of Trade Building, 301-307 W. First St., at nearly $3 million, even though it had sold for $850,000 last year. Upon further review, the valuation was reduced to $928,700 — less than one-third of what had been proposed.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg in Duluth. The valuations on numerous downtown properties have been drastically reduced as the extent of the county government’s overreach spread in the business community.

After hearing numerous appeals and completing a thorough review, the county has revised many of its initial valuations, trimming nearly $115.9 million from the city’s proposed tax rolls. About 180 downtown properties saw revisions.

What went wrong? County officials blame the snaffu mostly on a staff shortage. Not enough assessors.

In describing the difficulties with valuations in downtown Duluth this year, [County Assessor Dave] Sipola said: “I don’t know if this was really a process issue more than a resource issue — about having enough people to get the work done.”

Garness noted that the assessor’s office had staffing turnover and a vacant position that wasn’t filled.

“Those are part of the equation obviously that made it an extra challenge this year. And properties downtown had not been reassessed for a number of years — 10 to 12 years in some circumstances,” she said.

Yet the tax assessors’ creative calculations were also frequently challenged outside Duluth, bringing the total write-down of overtaxed properties throughout St. Louis County to some $133 million in all.