At emotional hearing, Minneapolis homeowners demand lower property taxes

At Minneapolis City Hall last night, the owner of “the last house in Minneapolis” on York Avenue South, right at the border with Edina, stood at a podium facing Mayor R.T. Rybak and members of the city council to announce his plan for dealing with proposed double-digit property tax hikes.

“I want to introduce myself,” said Michael Matthews, whose proposed property tax increase is 13.1 percent. “Hi and bye. I’m moving to Edina — across the street to a rambler.” City Council chambers, packed since before the gavel sounded on the public hearing to discuss the tax increases, pulsed with laughter and applause.

For two hours one homeowner after another—from the disgusted to despondent — stepped to the podium to ask the city to reduce the increases; to issue a moratorium on new projects; and as one senior in a Teamsters cap put it, to “Stop it! Please! Stop it!”

The first applause of the night came for a 43-year resident of Minneapolis who promised to seek a way for taxpayers to block the action and, addressing the mayor, insisted that after years of increases with little respite, “We have no more money to give you.”

Homeowners described opening their proposed property tax statements, assuming it was a printing error, and going door-to-door to their neighbors only to find similar increases—averaging between 10 and 20 percent, according to the city — and further astonishment and dismay.

Few speakers failed to mention the timing of the notice — most people received it just 24 hours before the hearing. Some tried to organize neighbors who couldn’t make the trek to City Hall on such short notice and held those neighbors’ statements in the air with their own.

Sarah Tressel, a homeowner in the Lynnhurst neighborhood near Lake Harriet, was applauded after her emotional demand for another hearing to allow more time for residents to make arrangements and be there.

Late notice

In fact, the notices were mailed late only in relation to the hearing.  By law the statements, also called Truth in Taxation statements, must be printed and mailed after Nov. 10 but before Nov. 25.

Council President Barbara Johnson explained that the notices are mailed out by Hennepin County and that the city has no control over it. Deflecting Tressel’s demand for an additional hearing, Johnson told her of the next and final hearing on the matter, scheduled for Dec. 13. City Council will also vote on the 2011 budget and the proposed tax increases at that meeting.

Tressel wasn’t satisfied — and judging by the mumbling all around her, many others shared her concern that council members will have made up their minds by then.

The city may be working within the rules by sticking to their hearing schedule, she said, but “that is wrong — even if the rules allow you to be wrong.”

The most somber speaker of the night was a woman who bought her home three years ago and was laid off a month ago.  “I’ve never been out of a job and I’ve always paid my taxes,” she said, her voice soft and trembling. This money she’d be paying in property tax increases, she explained, was money that would have to come out of her budget for necessities like food. “Rethink this so people like myself will not end up homeless.”

Two rental property owners spoke. One of them, Mark Johnson, reminded the council that people in his position will only pass the increases on to renters who are often struggling already and may be forced to find other housing.

People on fixed incomes—including retirees, were often invoked. “I’m lucky enough that I can afford to pay this,” said recent-retiree Robert Jansen, 64, of the Northrop neighborhood near Lake Nokomis, “But if you want retired people to stay in Minneapolis…”

Johnson and Rybak took turns at the end of the hearing explaining the city’s pension fund crisis, attempts to shrink city government (there are 1,000 fewer city employees today in the City of Minneapolis than there were in 2003), and the toll of state cuts in local government aid.

It’s nothing folks hadn’t heard before. And at least for the people who took to the podium, it wasn’t good enough. “Excuses, excuses, excuses,” one woman whispered. “Stop pointing fingers,” another demanded. In an era of widespread economic hardship and long-term unemployment, it’s no surprise if people are struggling to take a city-first view on the increases. “I can’t afford this” was the mantra of the hearing.

“Don’t tax me like I have the money to pay it,” said Robert Hinck, a homeowner in the Lowry Hill neighborhood. “We are literally being taxed out of our homes.” He closed with a poignant line that referenced the defector on York Avenue and had only the audience laughing: “Quality of life in this city includes a city with residents.”

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/19/2010 - 11:04 am.

    Not that this is a great time to trot out the state of California as a good example, but I believe that they have a property taxation policy that prevents residents from being taxed from their homes to the streets.

    In the late 1970s, Californians approved Proposition 13, an acquisition-value assessment system. It provides that property is to be assessed at its value when acquired through purchase or by construction. The taxable value of property may increase annually by no more than the rate of inflation or two percent, whichever is less.

    Since I purchased my Minneapolis home 20 years ago, my property taxes have increased by 400%. in 1992 alone, my property increased 85%. This year, 10.2% (-5% property valuation) is modest with respect to tax increases suffered by my neighbors.

  2. Submitted by Chris Vogtman on 11/19/2010 - 11:15 am.

    It’s not just Minneapolis. I live a stone’s throw away in Robbinsdale and my property taxes increased 13.4% while the value of my house fell $10,400. Meanwhile, two years ago, Robbinsdale improved our neighborhood with new streets in sewers for a special assessment to the tune of $7,300 for my lot.

    To the people of Minneapolis, there are no guarantees in home ownership and it doesn’t really matter what city your home is located in. Moving across the city border isn’t a viable answer … especially to Edina.

    My only real question is, if this wasn’t a down economy, would anybody even raise a stink about the increase?

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/19/2010 - 11:25 am.

    “…as one senior in a Teamsters cap put it, to “Stop it! Please! Stop it!”

    Someone, please tell me that doesn’t rank right up there with people protesting socialized medical systems while declaring “hands off my Medicare”.

    I’ve never actually seen an instance of the latter, but I’m sure all get my point.

    I’d like to say I feel their pain, but hey, these are the folks that either allow their leftist neighbors elect their ilk to the council, year after year, or join in the kool-aid party themselves.

    There is no way the current occupants of the MPLS city council, or Hennepin County board for that matter, won’t gladly sacrifice a few residents to maintain their leftist utopia.

    Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

    The next election is two years off, folks. You’ll get your chance, but until then, you’re just going to have to take the medicine Dr. Democrat prescribes.

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 11/19/2010 - 12:20 pm.

    I saw no reference to the reason for soaring property taxes: these are the result of Pawlenty’s “no new taxes” ideology. When people yell “Taxed enough already,” do they have any idea what they are asking for? No. Like the people who said they didn’t want a health care “takeover” (which it’s not) but added, “Don’t touch my social security. This is what happens when we lose sight of anything other than, literally, our own front yard. When we quit caring about our whole neighborhood, our whole city, our whole country. It takes work and money to create and maintain a decent, democratic society in which everyone pitches in to help.
    We had it before–I’m thinking of WWII–but we have lost it. WWII brought people together to fight the war (we did not have adequate weapons of war) and factories and people and government and EVERYONE took part in waging the war successfully–even on the home front where sugar, gas, nylons, clothes–hundreds of things were unavailable or rationed.
    Most didn’t complain. It was for the continued existence of our country and our democracy.
    I think we are in as much peril now from the greed, dishonesty, Wall Street corruption, purchasing of elections by the Chamber of Commerce and the like.

  5. Submitted by chris hatch on 11/19/2010 - 12:35 pm.

    I am really torn about the property tax issue.

    on the one hand, I was completely shocked and upset to see an 18% increase on my assessment when I opened it. what was the city thinking?

    on the other hand though, even last year I noticed a decline in services that was upsetting (the park near me wasn’t mowed until June which resulted in grass almost a foot high. kind of hard to enjoy it like that).

    Even though I am unhappy about the increase, I want to live in a city that provides good services while still adding to its infrastructure even in tough times. these are things that will attract people (and business) to a city.

    I think the thing that upsets me the most is the switch in that majority of taxes being commercial to residential. I feel like the burden should at least be equal.

    oh, and mr. swift of the black and white simplified worlview? my father-in-law is your example. throughout the entire debate over the healthcare bill he complained about cuts that were going to be made to his medicare and that this obamacare was going to ruin us.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/19/2010 - 01:08 pm.

    My own modest home’s value declined by 5% and my proposed tax bill increased by 13.2%. That doesn’t sound much like “leftist utopia” to me. There ain’t no free lunch, so if the state either doesn’t have the money, whether through the economic downturn or the Governor’s “no new taxes” pledge, or chooses not to funnel as much of it to local communities as has been the case in the past, we either take up the slack ourselves, or we do without. Since double-digit tax increases are not themselves sustainable for any length of time, it’s not just the guy claiming to move across the street to Edina who will have had enough. Some rethinking is in order at City Hall, and – just a suggestion – some genuine public input might be advisable.

    “Here’s the income. Here are the proposed expenses. Where do you think we should cut to balance the budget?” It’s late in the game to actually do that, but something similar ought to be the way things work when belt-tightening is in order. Neighborhood Association meetings would be a sensible place to put that sort of thing in motion, city-wide.

    Property taxes have been, and continue to be, the primary revenue source for local and state schools in most states around the country. California’s Proposition 13 has had the unintended (presumably) side effect of destroying what was at the time the best public educational system in the country, and adoption of something similar here would likely be catastrophic for both the image and the reality of Minnesota’s educational achievements, whatever they might be.

    While I’ve never heard both lines at the same time, I HAVE sat in meetings where seniors in their 70s have complained about the alleged stinginess of Medicare, then minutes later railed against “socialized medicine.” Many of my now-fellow seniors often fail to connect the dots between benefits and costs.

    Jim Kunstler ( takes a dim view of current American society to begin with, and has written at length on what he predicts will be a very painful process of “contraction” of the society and the economy. Perhaps we’re looking at one of the early incidents along the lines that he’s written about. In the meantime, Mr. Swift’s schadenfreude is duly noted. I look forward to his constructive proposals for replacing the current local, county and state governments with a structure and organization more to his liking.

  7. Submitted by David Greene on 11/19/2010 - 01:16 pm.

    It’s not excuses, unfortunately. There are real consequences to cuts in LGA. Minneapolis sends more to the state in tax receipts than it gets back in LGA so it’s no surprise the revenue has to be made up somewhere. To those who say, “cut, cut, cut,” I ask, where should we cut? Please be very specific and provide budget numbers to back up your claims.

  8. Submitted by Shawn Otto on 11/19/2010 - 01:24 pm.

    This is the result of 8 years of the no-new-state-taxes mantra at the capitol, and state tax and spending policies that have shifted costs the state used to pay for off onto local governments. It’s not just Minneapolis – it’s everywhere. The problem with this model, which some republicans argued for on the campaign trail by calling it “local control” and saying it was more transparent and preferred over income taxes, is that it is unrelated to the ability to pay. If you lose your job you don’t pay income taxes, but your property tax bill doesn’t care about that. The danger is that more people may be forced out of their homes by taxes, which can further erode the real estate market and cause a further decline in the tax base.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/19/2010 - 01:45 pm.


    Perhaps there are no guarantees, but there should be. Perhaps we need our own Proposition #13. That would provide the restraint that the people levying the taxes can’t seem to muster.

    And, yes I have complained about double digit property taxes hikes in the midst of up economies.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/19/2010 - 02:01 pm.

    Just remember, Pawlenty never raised your taxes. I’m starting to wonder if we have LGA for a reason? Good luck getting relief from the new Republican legislature. Genius splitting the ticket like that.

  11. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 11/19/2010 - 02:48 pm.

    Didn’t anyone at the hearing point out that these tax increases are a result of Governor Pawlenty’s insistence on cutting LGA–Local Government Assistance? Earned income is a better reflection of ability to pay taxes than the value of a house. In other words, paying state taxes and receiving LGA is a way to share the burden of municipal services that not just residents use. People often commute long distances to work, shop, attend Twins or Vikings games and expect fire and police protection, clean water and working sewers wherever they are. Let’s get real about taxation and understand we need to pay for the services we need and use.

  12. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/19/2010 - 03:02 pm.

    Bob Collins’ post on the subject is somewhat interesting, as he’s surveying property values / tax burden changes. The sample is still small, but in much of Minneapolis, values are flat & taxes are up, while in the posts from the burbs, both values & taxes are down, but the taxes decreased more slowly. While I’m unhappy at the tax hike, I’m very happy with my property value. I’m confident we could get out what we have into it, if we had to – that doesn’t seem to be the case in the suburbs.

  13. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 11/19/2010 - 03:54 pm.

    I’m confused, when I reviewed the reasons for the property tax increase pension obligations was the primary cost driver. That said how exactly would LGA be part of this discussion. I doubt that even the most liberal interpretations regarding the appropriate use of LGA would include pension obligations. Furthermore what is the expected difference between the last LGA allocation and the upcoming allocation? I highly doubt divided government would/could create wholesale changes to the funding formula. Maybe the appropriate question would be ask who the hell is managing the pension fund. Another question would be if we don’t have the capacity to properly manage for our future obligations should we not change the compensation model? I think at the very least we should mandate benchmarking to private sector pension ratios. So if 20% of private sector employees in Minnesota have pensions then 20% of public sector employees should reap a similar benefit.

  14. Submitted by Karl Sullivan on 11/19/2010 - 03:56 pm.

    One of the many problems with a Prop 13 scheme is that newer owners end up subsidizing older owners. Thus basically giving older and likely wealthier residents a huge subsidy at the expense of younger people who have all the costs older owners no longer carry. (I would gladly swap daycare for 2 kids, mortgage, educational loans, etc. for the typical costs of a retired person).

    Additionally, it’s quite rich to read Thomas Swifts comments about “Dr. Democrat” and whatnot. The facts are that under the Pawlenty Administration property taxes have increased statewide by approximately $3 billion per year. Because of this governor’s policies, the property tax has become the largest tax in Minnesota. It is not the fault of the DFL that property taxes are high-if you think this you need to go look at the facts. The DFL has consistently voted to support LGA and other state paid property tax aids and credits. It is the governor that has both enacted and unallotted for huge cuts in these critical programs. In the face of these cuts, if you think city officials should just relexively cut critical city services like police, fire, libraries, etc. instead of raising their levies, then I encourage you to go live in a city that has done exactly this.

  15. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/19/2010 - 04:03 pm.

    We could argue over individual line items on the budgets of the Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and Minnesota, targeting some for elimination or reduction. I expect we might not come to agreement on much.

    I propose that we apply the sniff test. Do the property taxes in Minneapolis seem fair? Are they right? As I noted earlier, mine have increased 400% over 20 years. Arguably in that same period, the level of tax funded services have gone down. This spring, I had mowed my lawn five times before adjacent city land had seen a mower blade.

    My earnings have not increased 400% in 20 years, neither has inflation. In a Proposition 13 environment, property taxes on a house would increase 46% over 20 years, assuming it did not change hands. Sounds better than 400, and more in line with the change in my earnings over the period.

  16. Submitted by B Maginnis on 11/19/2010 - 04:44 pm.

    Love the city folks, who smugly vote liberal, seeing the chickens come home to roost.

    What do you get for your taxes in the “golden crescent” neighborhoods of Minneapolis?

    Fewer cops, more criminals, poor plowing and so forth.

    I fled years ago when the city refused to enforce their noise ordinances.

    Enjoy the guilded water fountains!

  17. Submitted by B Maginnis on 11/19/2010 - 04:46 pm.

    Oh, and that Minneapolis school busing thing.

    How’s that working out again?

    My goodness, what hath RT wrought?

  18. Submitted by craig furguson on 11/20/2010 - 12:59 am.

    Mayor Rybak just emailed his mayoral update to the citizens of Minneapolis. In it he states, “Many of you received your supplemental Truth in Taxation notices in just the past few days, and as a result, you did not have much or any notice about last night’s public hearing on the budget. For that, please accept my apologies: we at the City of Minneapolis supplied the document to Hennepin County many weeks ago, but the County — whose responsibility it is to send the notice out — failed to mail it in a timely manner.”

    As the article points out, Minnesota Statutes 275.065, subd.6 clearly states that Truth in Taxation statements must be printed and mailed after Nov. 10 but before Nov. 25. So if this is state law and Minneapolis presumably knows it, why did they schedule the hearings for when they did?

  19. Submitted by David Greene on 11/20/2010 - 02:38 am.

    Jennifer (#13), it is false to say both parties are equally corporate-driver. One is in the corporate pockets much more than the other and we have to be honest about that. I’m fed up with certain Democratic officials myself but I’m fed up with ALL Republican officials. There isn’t a good one in the lot as far as I can tell. They are weak-minded pawns who use the debating style best practiced by children. They are not serious about their jobs. Not a one.

  20. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 11/20/2010 - 08:33 am.

    The professional politicians are so out-of-touch with ordinary citizens that they do not realize that most citizens are simply not interested in most of these so-called government “services” and would be happy to be relieved of them. As in the days of old, citizens increasing view government as a burden and a tyrannical collector of harsh taxes.

    It seems that throughout history tyrannical elites have dressed in fine clothes and demanded and extracted taxes from poor bedraggled citizens. Alas, this is how our politicians and their minions are increasingly viewed — overfed, dressed in fine clothes, and spoiled.

  21. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/20/2010 - 08:41 am.

    Mr. Skar: Under Pawlenty’s no-new-taxes regime, the state lost $1 billion per year in revenue for a total of $8 billion. This situation is entirely his fault and that of his supporters in the legislature.

    The money we citizens pay in real estate taxes — directly or as part of our rent — BELONGS TO US for whatever our town, city, or county is obligated to pay. The purpose of LGA was to allow the state to redistribute some funds from rich towns/suburbs to inner cities with large numbers of poor people and immigrants just learning the language. and to small towns that may need a water purification system but can’t afford it even by taxing their entire population out of their homes.

    Instead of using OUR MONEY as intended, Pawlenty took as much as he wanted to balance his bare-bones anti-worker/anti-poor-people/anti-government budget and then told cities and counties and school systems and public hospitals to tighten their belts.

    It may take a long time to recover from the damage done in eight short years. Minneapolis citizens should take their very justified gripes to the guy who is responsible for them.

  22. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/20/2010 - 07:22 pm.

    Bernice (#22):

    Minneapolis is not a recipient of LGA: Minneapolis is a net contributor. You know, pay in more than you get back.

    I am not proposing this, but further reductions in LGA would help Minneapolis taxpayers.

  23. Submitted by DeeDee Olander on 11/20/2010 - 07:45 pm.

    I get that the city has bills to pay. But to claim that the people got an unbelievable deal because it was a foreclosure is not reasonable. The homes were put out on the open market – and they didn’t start being listed at $20,000 and sold within hours. They started out being listed at some price, and then had the price reduced and reduced until someone wanted to buy it. A home is valued at what someone is willing to pay for it. Just read a blog ( about cities and property taxes and foreclosures – it isn’t just happening in Minneapolis – its all over the place. The saddest part is that the city made promises that it simply can’t keep, and now there’s no way to pay for those promises – leaves the residents holding a bag that they can’t begin to pay for.

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