Property owners express concern over “shocking increases” in valuations

Homeowners across Minnesota face significant double-digit increases in county government valuation of their properties. The huge hikes, which factor into next year’s property tax bills, came out of the blue to many residents of Crow Wing County, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

“It has been a busy spring with the amount of increase in valuation that this county has experienced,” said Gary Griffin, land services director, during the Tuesday, April 12, County Board meeting. “ … We’re getting numerous phone calls and we’re just trying to get the word out that, you know, while your property valuation may go up 30, 40, 50, and in some cases even over 60%, depending exactly where you’re located, that doesn’t necessarily mean your taxes are going to go up 30, 40, 50, 60%. That’s a lot of the scare out there that we’ve heard.”

Just the same, property values on paper have ballooned some 66 percent in the last five years in Crow Wing County alone. Small wonder that county officials try to tamp down fears of homeowners being priced out of their property at that rate.

Griffin sought to clarify the relationship between valuation and taxes while also presenting statistics to show Crow Wing County is not alone in its steep increases — even though it appears to be experiencing some of the biggest climbs in the state. Residential and seasonal/recreational property values in Crow Wing rose at an average rate of 35%, just topping Cass at 31% and Aitkin at 29%, based on data Griffin said was gathered from other county assessor’s offices.

County assessors determine valuations, but in reality, state law drives the process, leaving little wiggle room for variation at the local level.

Sales of comparable properties are the basis of the property valuation process, which is conducted by county government officials but is driven by rules set by the state Legislature.

The values must fall within a statistical range established by the state, and if they stray from that range, rules require the county to raise or lower all property values accordingly. And there’s a lag built into the system: property values as of January 2022 are based on sales between October 2020 and September 2021.

The Crow Wing County Board presented a partial state map showing that property owners in counties statewide have faced similar increases, in order to put residents’ potential pain in perspective. The valuation spikes were all double-digits in both urban and outstate areas, from a low of 13 percent in Ramsey County to a high of 35 percent in Crow Wing County with most counties somewhere in between. As a result, county officials are braced for a backlash from residents who fear the expected impact on their property tax bills now and moving forward.

County Administrator Tim Houle said he expects to see more people than usual attending their local boards of appeal and equalization meetings to raise concerns about their values.

“It is because these are shocking increases,” Houle said. “It is a reflection of what’s happening in the larger market for real estate. We’re more popular than everywhere else, but everywhere else is also popular.”

But, as Griffin and others emphasized, what residents pay in property taxes is determined by an entirely different set of factors — most importantly, how much money local governments decide to collect as part of their property tax levies to cover their spending. The recent valuation notices apply to the 2023 tax year, for which county commissioners and other jurisdictions will not set levy amounts until December.