South St. Paul residents are eyeing big property tax increases in 2020, and the pain begins not far from City Hall.
In a blocklong stretch of 3rd Avenue S., most homeowners received word last month their taxes could rise by 13.3% or more — some of the larger percentage hikes being projected in the metro area.
A block over on 2nd Avenue S., Nick Ridgeway had it even worse. He was surprised to learn he could be paying nearly 15% more in taxes.
“What do you do?” Ridgeway said, though he was quick to add he is a fan of the mayor and South St. Paul Public Schools.
Property taxes are rising again across the metro area, and for South St. Paul residents, the bad news is offset by some good — a sharp increase in their homes’ market values. School district leaders, too, signaled before a tax hearing last week they’d be paring down the district’s proposed tax-levy increase in an effort to protect homeowners.
Anoka County also worked to trim its increase by a percentage point to 3.97% — a move reflected in the Star Tribune’s annual review of where property taxes are headed metrowide in the coming year.
“This final levy is the result of hard work and ingenuity,” Scott Schulte, chairman of the Anoka County board, said in a news release that applauded county staff members for their “expertise and dedication to serving our taxpayers in a respectful, innovative and fiscally responsible manner.”
Proposals that survived include plans to hire more 911 operators and strengthen cybersecurity, the county said.
Truth in Taxation statements mailed to property owners in November take into account the market value changes for individual properties and the levy proposals being considered by every taxing jurisdiction. The proposals in the notices represent the maximum amounts the jurisdictions can raise when they take final action on their tax plans in December.
This year, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter had the rare opportunity to boost the budget he initially proposed in August after the City Council set the city’s potential levy increase at 22% in case voters overturned the city’s system of organized trash collection. City Hall prevailed in the election, and Carter opted to dedicate an additional $1.7 million to public safety measures tailored in response to recent gun violence. Last week, the City Council backed his proposal to increase the city’s tax levy by nearly 6%.
Ramsey County Auditor-Treasurer Chris Samuel said this fall that a 5% hike in the city’s levy — combined with the tax plans being considered by the county and St. Paul Public Schools — would result in the owner of the city’s median-valued home paying about 6% more in property taxes in 2020.
The projected tax increase for a similarly situated Minneapolis homeowner is 4.4%.
Minneapolis, like St. Paul, has seen its tax hearings populated by activists imploring council members to steer more resources to community-based initiatives than police officer hires. It has become uncommon, in fact, for people to actually talk taxes. But three hours into a recent Minneapolis tax hearing a tall man in a tan jacket rose to question a projected 43% tax increase on a piece of undeveloped land he owns in the Bassett Creek area.
He did not give his name for the record, but Council Member Andrea Jenkins announced he was none other than Carl Eller, the former Minnesota Vikings great.
The audience applauded.
Next up for the Hall of Famer is a meeting with the city assessor to discuss the valuation of his property.
Eyes to the schools
In addition to market value increases, voter-approved school levies and bond sales often are a trigger for property tax hikes that rise into the double digits, percentage-wise. That helps explain the increases of 10% or more that now face owners of median-valued homes in North St. Paul, Maplewood and Oakdale.
The tax picture is incomplete in districts like White Bear Lake Area and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, where voters backed new school spending in elections held in November — too late for the costs to be reflected in the Truth in Taxation statements mailed that same month.
For years, school district leaders tasked with making springtime budget cuts have noted how state aid has failed to keep pace with inflation. When setting tax levies, they work closely with the state Department of Education to determine how much they can raise from local taxpayers, and it can be hard for them to leave money on the table.
A month ago, well in advance of the Truth in Taxation hearing set for last week, South St. Paul Public Schools announced its intention to trim its levy increase from 8.3% to 5.8% after it became clear homeowners — whose values were rising — would be shouldering a greater share of the tax burden.
The room was full when last week’s meeting began, but there were no signs of nervousness. Superintendent Dave Webb made small talk, instead, with athletes about to be recognized for their recent exploits: “Great fall,” he said. “Thanks to you all.”
Then came the ceremony and short testimonials. There were nods to a football player’s weightlifting prowess and to the girls soccer team notching a cumulative 3.3 grade-point average and to a cross-country runner fighting through a knee injury.
The attendees were happy, photos were taken, and by the time the tax hearing began, everyone had filed out, leaving no one from the public to speak.