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Polite but unhappy Hennepin County residents vent about property tax increases

Property taxpayers were polite but unhappy as they took turns sharing their frustration with members of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night at the state-required Truth-in-Taxation hearing.

“Property tax is inherently unfair” because it’s not based on the ability to pay, said Minneapolis homeowner Mary Larson, who purchased her house in August.

Nevertheless, she sees value in the services provided by Hennepin County: “It’s not fair, but what are we going to do? Put our grandmothers on the curb?”

Larson, whose property taxes for next year will be $5,984, blamed the reluctance of public officials to raise state and federal taxes on the wealthy for property tax burdens.

Wayne Smith of Brooklyn Center said his property taxes have risen 20 percent in the last three years. “I don’t spend money on things I can’t afford to buy,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see that happening in government budgets.

“I’ll probably die broke,” he said. “I cannot afford to withstand these kinds of increases on my town home.”

County Board Chair Mike Opat said part of the explanation for overall property tax increases in Hennepin County may rest with the school district portion of tax bills. Hennepin County, by contrast, cut $50 million from its 2011 budget for 2012 – a decrease of 3.13 percent.

Many speakers noted their unhappiness at seeing their property values drop at the same time their property taxes are rising.

The same thing happened to him, said County Commissioner Jeff Johnson of Plymouth.

“My property value dropped a little, but my neighbors’ property value dropped more,” said Johnson, “so I’m making up the difference.”

 He did not get much sympathy.

“In the last five years, I’ve watched my taxes double,” said Jonah Bridger, who owns a home in the Seward neighborhood and is trying to rehab an 11-unit apartment building in North Minneapolis. He said demolition of area buildings are bringing down the value of the buildings that remain.  That, in turn, makes rehab more difficult.

“I understand the pain you go through in North Minneapolis,” said Commissioner Mark Stenglein.

Kiran Kavati is worried about other vacant properties — empty condos in his Minneapolis building — bringing down values. He also is concerned about the impact of foreclosures and a bad market for people trying to sell property.

“I may go bankrupt pretty soon because this is how it’s going,” Kavati said, noting the expenses he faces in keeping his property in good repair while getting hit with increased property taxes.

Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who lives near Kavati, said there are three vacant homes in his block.

“The fundamental thing going on here is we are not taxing any more,” said McLaughlin who blamed the Republican-controlled Legislature for eliminating the $261 million Homestead Credit Fund that has provided a property tax cushion for taxpayers. 

That credit has been replaced with a new system that gives a tax break to lower-value homes while increasing the burden on higher-value homes, commercial and rental property.

“I relocated to Minneapolis from Chicago, and I thought the taxes there were bad,” said Keely Wheaton of Minneapolis. She said she loves her new neighborhood and neighbors but not the 18.9 percent increase in 2012 property taxes.

She did admit to property improvements. “I brought it up to code,” she said.  She also painted and planted some trees.  Despite the improvements, the property’s value did not increase. Wheaton said property tax increases like this were would be “unsustainable.”

“The state support is sinking,” responded McLaughlin. “We’re not raising property taxes — the budget is down $50 million. The state took a walk.”

Minneapolis residents get another chance to vent Wednesday night. The City Council is holding a public hearing on property taxes at 6:05 p.m. in Room 317 at Minneapolis City Hall.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/01/2011 - 04:19 am.

    The county commissioners have themselves to blame for the complaints from “polite but unhappy” homeowners. During all the years of rising values, they would greet complaints of rising taxes as the natural result of rising values. Not very honest. More honest would be to acknowledge that regardless of valuations, property taxes will increase each year.

    Before there was an annual cap, I experienced an 85% increase in one year. Since I purchased my Minneapolis home 20 years ago, my property taxes have increased 5X.

    If there were an interest in fairness, property taxes would be fixed at the time of purchase and remain constant until the time of sale. For many years this has been the policy in California.

  2. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 12/05/2011 - 08:39 am.

    Steve,

    You raise some valid points. Property taxes are inherently unfair and need reformation. Our whole state, county, and city tax, budgeting, and spending structure needs adjustment so that each party can’t just continue to blame the others for constant shortfalls.

    That being said, I don’t know how many fiscal cues we want to take from California right now…

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