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Sunday, October 4, 2009


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Heads up — it's property-tax season

Pioneer Press

The property tax is indispensable and unfathomable. It provides more than one-fifth of all government revenue. It rises and falls — mostly rises — according to multiple variables, possibly including the weather and the standings in the American League Central.

We exaggerate. But as we enter property tax season, a little hyperbole is in order. The owner of a home or apartment or business, or the person who rents that space, would have to work full time to keep up with all the property tax machinery now in motion to produce next year's bill.

We will try to simplify it.

Most of the revenue collected from property taxes pays for local government services such as police and fire protection, schools and county roads and parks and libraries. Each local "unit" — each city, county and school district — decides independently how much it needs from its property-tax payers for the next year.

The city of St. Paul, Ramsey County and the St. Paul school board have each adopted an upper limit for their increases for 2010. The city approved an upper limit increase of about 6 percent; Ramsey County, 2.7 percent; and the St. Paul Board of Education, 4.5 percent. Those percentages can be reduced before the end of the year but they cannot be increased.

The percentages are folded together into a single bill for each property owner, which also takes into account changes in market values and state tax policy. Voila — a maximum proposed increase

calculated for each owner and mailed out in November as a "truth-in-taxation" notice. This occurs before the local "units" have their final, levy-setting meetings.

A sales or income tax is calculated as a rate applied to sales or income. When sales or income go up or down, revenue automatically tracks these trends. But the property tax is defined by the end product — the amount the people running local government decide it needs to operate.

The fact that market values have declined in many St. Paul neighborhoods does not mean the city will get less revenue. Market value changes affect how the tax burden is distributed throughout the city but do not change the amount that will be collected.

State policy is critical. Historically, owner-occupied, lower-valued homes have been favored in the state's property-tax classification system. That means the owner of a business property will pay more the owner of a home of the same market value.

Confused? Of course!

Oh — one more thing. In the metro area, a percentage of commercial and industrial property tax revenue is pooled and redistributed to communities under the "fiscal disparities" program. This year, the levy increases proposed in St. Paul will be blunted by that pool, which is doing well despite the economy.

According to Chris Samuel of Ramsey County's property records and revenue division, a single-family home in St. Paul with a median taxable value — $168,100, assuming an 8 percent market value decrease — would see an increase of only $3 if all the proposed hikes were enacted. But a commercial property with a median taxable value — $442,600, assuming no market-value change — would see an increase of $884.

"Market values distribute the burden,'' said Mark Haveman, executive director of the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. "They don't set the burden." If all values are falling, those that fall the least are likely to be hit harder. In St. Paul, Samuel's chart shows that Highland Park will hold that dubious honor.

We have long wished for a simpler, easier-to-understand property tax system. That does not seem to be likely any time soon. We have to live with what we've got.

That means that local governments must be as frugal as possible, and must ask their property owners for only that which they absolutely need. And property owners, to the extent that they are able, should try to speak up, write letters and make sure that local officials know the pressure is on.

The Minnesota Taxpayers Association has published an informative (and 44-page) booklet titled "Understanding Your Property Taxes." Its main recommendation for property owners is to keep an eye on local government spending so that the "bottom line" is kept as small as possible. The MTA document is available at:

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Sharon4AttorneyG eneral


1 min ago
the "fiscal disparities" program. This year, the levy increases proposed in St. Paul will be blunted by that pool, which is doing well despite the economy. Please view ALL DOC. at CitySt.Paul and Co.Ramsey Arbitrary,Capericous,Blatant Discrimination using Fees/Assessments based on Theft,Trespass,Treason is Bizzare,62cv09-1163 at , Either Judge John Vandenorth has Filed_Published "Order"based on FRAUD,Disability,Death,Dispara gment of Titles or Auditor ha embellezed payments. PLEASE review the Grand Jury of Lou McKenna and Decedant John Finley **** Death Threats made it necessay POA at
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