Just as the appearance of auburn leaves signals fall, the arrival of bright yellow mail notices in homeowners’ mailboxes signals the arrival of another kind of season — tax season.
It’s a time of year that keeps Scott County Assessor Michael Thompson’s already busy office on its toes. Since county residents received notices of their proposed 2019 property valuations for the 2020 tax season, Thompson and his team of nine appraisers have gotten calls from about 200 residents.
“Many of those inquiries were resolved by answering questions and/or providing additional information,” Thompson said via email. “Staff has estimated that about 60 to 70 of those calls have become value appeals.”
As Thompson noted in a March 5 presentation to the county board, “The most important time for the public to pay attention to these notices is right now.”
Property values increased again this year across the county. For taxes payable in 2019-2020, the average Scott County home value increased from $310,100 to $326,500, up about 5.3 percent.
The average Jordan home's assessed value went from $237,700 in 2018 to $251,900 in 2019, a 6 percent increase.
The average Shakopee home value rose from $255,400 to $272,600, a 6.7 percent increase.
And in Prior Lake, the average home value increased from $349,600 to $366,300, a 4.8 percent increase.
Some residents are in a time crunch on their appeal options. Property owners statewide have a window of time for appeals of assessed and taxable values. Residents can appeal the decision with their board of appeal and equalization with hearings from April to May, as noted at the bottom of their notice.
If residents miss this meeting date, they must pay to file their case with the Minnesota Tax Court. If a homeowner goes to their local board and still wants to appeal their valuation, they can go to the County Board of Appeal and Equalization. This is the last step residents can take locally to get their valuations changed.
Among the residents contesting their valuations this year is Tim Conroy, a homeowner in Credit River Township, in a neighborhood his assessor dubbed “aging.” What that means in reality is you’re unlikely to find neighbors fussing over lawn care and home maintenance around Conroy’s home, he said.
Yet Conroy still saw an increase in his property valuation this year. From his 2018 valuation to his 2019 valuation, his home rose $7,600 in estimated market value, increasing his home’s taxable value by $8,300 for 2020.
Conroy said he’s frustrated that his home’s value increases year after year while county services in his neighborhood stay the same.
“What am I getting in return for the money I’m spending?” Conroy said. “Credit River takes care of my roads. The sheriff is my police. The only thing we contract with is the fire department, and I’ve never seen a fire truck come down my road in the last 15 years I’ve lived here... so where’s the money going?”
Conroy and his wife recently met with their assessor.
“He explained to me that ... just because your house is nice and their house is junk, you can’t say that my house is worth less because you live in a junk neighborhood,” Conroy said.
Thompson said the calculation of a home’s market value takes into account features that may be beyond what residents see out their window, such as sales throughout the county of similar properties. A property’s profile is stratified by location, type and home style, among other features.
“We make numerous adjustments and changes to our valuation model every year,” Thompson wrote. “Our analysis of actual sales is the basis for those changes.”
Across the county, values are being driven by rising sale prices. Thompson told commissioners the average sales price is up 6.7 percent this year. Prices are in turn driven up by historically low interest rates, decreases in foreclosures and the county’s limited home supply.
“The biggest misconception has to be ‘When property values increase, local governments receive more revenue,’” Thompson said. “In Minnesota we do not have a mill rate system, whereby revenues may increase as a result of valuation increases. The valuations are set first, then local levies are determined, and then tax rates are calculated, a byproduct of the two previous steps.”
Scott County Commissioner Tom Wolf noted the tax bill comes from the county but includes local jurisdictions’ price tags.
“We send the bill. But we collect for Credit River Township, we collect for all the schools in the whole county, we collect for the county, the Metropolitan Council, maybe some waterways, mosquito control.”
However, the county is part of the total bill, and the county approved a tax increase of $2.7 million, or 4.15 percent, for 2019.
Though the county is still months away from setting its 2020 levy, Wolf notes the area is dealing with increased costs on multiple fronts — costs that might be passed on to the taxpayer.
“In the end, salaries are going up, the cost of our trucks with the steel tariffs... have gone up dramatically, the price of making roads, buying the right-of-way to expand roads, and this project on (Highway) 27 is costing a lot of money,” Wolf said.
The commissioner advised residents to reach out to the board or their assessor now if they disagree with their property valuation before the tax bill arrives in their mailbox.
“We’re not trying to rip anybody off,” Wolf said. “Call up the assessor, call up myself or any of the other four commissioners. We’d all be happy to help out. We don’t want anybody paying more than they should. Absolutely not.”
Prior Lake’s next interim police chief will be Don Gudmundson, a former sheriff, police chief and homicide detective with a track record for community policing and law enforcement reform, city officials said Wednesday.
Gudmundson will take the reins of the department from his former mentee and current interim Police Chief Booker Hodges. Hodges is leaving the city on April 15 to take on the role of Minnesota Assistant Commissioner on Public Safety.
Hodges said the department will be in capable hands.
“Don, he’s community-policing-orientated,” he said. “He really agrees and prescribes to that philosophy. You’re not going to find a more qualified law enforcement person, probably in the county, than him to lead an agency.”
Gudmundson brings over 48 years of policing experience; his position is intended to end mid-June, when city officials expect to select a long-term police chief.
The Peterson native began his policing career in 1971 as a campus police officer at Wayne State University in Detroit, according to Prior Lake, the Pioneer Press and other sources. Within three years, he had joined the Detroit Police Department’s homicide squad as a detective.
Gudmundson eventually made his way to Illinois, where he worked as a Special Agent with the Illinois Bureau of Investigation as part of the Cook County Task Force investigating mafia murders.
Gudmundson returned to Minnesota in the late ‘70s as the Fillmore County sheriff. Over the next three decades, he added the titles of Lakeville police chief, Dakota County sheriff, Faribault police chief and interim Steele and Stearns county sheriff. Gudmundson is the only person in the state to have served as sheriff of four counties.
In September 2018, during his most recent role as the interim Stearns County Sheriff, Gudmundson ruffled feathers by releasing almost the entirety of the Jacob Wetterling investigation files and telling press the original investigation went “off the rails.”
The statement received national attention, in part because the case was featured as the focus of a season of American Public Radio’s “In the Dark” podcast.
Over the course of his career, Gudmundson mentored dozens of officers who would go on to lead departments of their own. Hodges said there was a kind of lore around working with Gudmundson.
“For a while, we always joked that NFL has the Bill Parcells tree,” Hodges said, referring to one of the most celebrated coaches and coach mentors in NFL history. “Well, in law enforcement, we kind of have the Don Gudmundson tree.”
Among these mentees are two of the state’s four African American police chiefs: Hodges and St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson. In 2009, Gudmundson received the Minneapolis NAACP’s President Award for his work in creating the most diverse law enforcement organization in the state.
Hodges said his former boss has a record that is respected nationwide.
“Don is a great leader,” Hodges said. “He’s a mentor, and he’s really a pioneer in law enforcement in many respects.”
City Manager Michael Plante said that respect was very apparent as the city considered interim options for the police department.
“We checked around and did some research and reference-checking, and Don came back highly recommended,” Plante said. “We’re certainly looking forward to working with him.”
Prior Lake didn’t provide contact information for Gudmundson by press time.