"Why have my father's property taxes increased by 49%?" asked Zumbrota Township resident Barbara Ronningen at the December 5 meeting of Goodhue County Board. "Can the County Board do nothing to mitigate this huge increase? This imposes great hardship, especially since Congress has failed to pass a Farm Bill." Other farmland owners echoed her concerns, some citing even greater increases. Ronningen made it clear she was not questioning the valuation, but her father's actual tax bill.
County Staff and Commissioners alike voiced great concern, but explained their hands are tied. Chief Assessor Peggy Trebil explained the valuation process. "The value of your property for your 2014 taxes was set from actual sales between October 2011 and September 2012," she said. "This is very frustrating, because people often forget how sales were going two years ago. Property values were then set in January 2013. The time for appeal against each property's valuation was in the spring. Then from August into fall, County staff were able to put together the budget with the actual figures."
State Makes the Rules, County just Slices the Pie
Finance Director Carolyn Holmsten said, "The State makes the rules, and we have to follow them. We cannot change the values, or give relief by changing the proportions. Think of the County's Tax Levy as a pie. Because values change from year to year, the size of everyone's slice of the pie changes too. Two years ago, business owners were hurting. This year it is farmland owners. Next year, it will probably be someone else. We are deeply sympathetic, but our hands are tied." Trebil added, "If we don't increase values in line with market value, set by what buyers are actually paying, the State steps in and imposes an increase they set."
Final Budget and Levy
to be Set December 17
The Board approved a Preliminary Budget of over $64 million, with a Levy of $27.4 million, in September. The levy increase is 1.72%. The figure was raised by the County's share of two large road projects on Hwy 52, and also because there will be an extra bi-weekly staff payday in 2014. This happens every 11 years, and money is set aside to pay the extra. The final figures will be set by the Board on December 17, but will be no higher than this.