Judge orders reassessment on contested Lansing properties

Published 4:29pm Friday, March 8, 2013

The city of Austin will have to reassess the former Lansing Township land owned by three property owners after Mower County District Judge Donald Rysavy ruled the city’s $15,000 assessment per lot unconstitutional.

Rysavy ruled against the city Wednesday, writing in a motion it was unreasonable to conclude each of the properties would benefit by more than half of its value when former state Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, Robert and Suzzane Allen, and MeShetnaglee and his mother, Kathy ScabbyRobeParnett, had presented evidence their land had decreased in value since the Lansing sewer system project was completed in 2011.

Robert Allen was pleased with the outcome, as he was confident the property owners would win.

“All I wanted was an honest judge and an honest court case, and I got it,” he said.

Allen’s property was shown to be valued at a little more than $15,000 this year, and Rysavy said it was clearly unreasonable for the city to charge him a $15,000 assessment for a municipal sewer system.

“Any owner suddenly confronted with an assessment 100 percent more than the actual value of the existing property would be foolish not to simply deed the property to the city,” Rysavy wrote in his ruling. “There can be no clearer example of unconstitutional taking.”

Under state law, a city or municipality can’t assess a property for an infrastructure project by more than what the land would benefit.

Rysavy found fault with the city’s appraisal process, after Robinson Appraisal & Associates valued the 209.5 lots of land the city of Austin annexed in 2009 from what used to be Lansing Township. According to Rysavy, the appraiser didn’t gather enough information, could have used a better appraisal process, and didn’t independently verify information he got from city officials.

City Administrator Jim Hurm was unaware of the ruling Friday afternoon, and said he would have no comment until he met with city staff. He did say the city hadn’t yet rescheduled the reassessment.

The ruling could have implications for future assessment trials. The owners of about 27 other parcels of land have banded together to hire lawyer Robert Ward of Rochester for a case to come before Mower County court in March. In addition, it is unclear what, if anything, the ruling could mean for other property owners affected by the Lansing sewer project.

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