Taxpayers tackle tax tabs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2000

Taxpayers are smarter today than yesterday.

Thursday, December 07, 2000

Taxpayers are smarter today than yesterday.

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Consider Glen Jacobsen, an Austin resident, who has relentlessly protested the city’s assessment policy for street improvement projects.

"The city assesses property owners 50 percent of the project costs," Jacobsen, a Mower County assistant attorney, has argued.

Why does he make that charge? According to Jacobsen, by doing that the city can keep its own property tax levy low, using the revenues from special assessments paid by property owners.

Jacobsen, who has become a familiar thorn-in-the-side of the Austin City Council, believes property owners should be assessed on the increase in their properties’ values caused by the street improvement project.

His protest a year ago seems to be working for the time being: he has not been assessed for the street improvement project in his neighborhood.

Jim Hartson, a rural Waltham resident, Malcolm McDonald, an Austin resident, and most recently, Chandler and Joanne Stevens, Richard and Pat Nicolai, Bill and Barb Orcutt, Ken and Carmen Tribbett and Russell and Norma Wangen qualify for the "smarter taxpayer" description.

Hartson questioned the benefits received by Great River Energy for its Pleasant Valley Township power generation station.

McDonald put his criticism in writing: buttonholing the Mower County Board of Commissioners with facts and figures about the amount of undesignated reserves accumulated by the county and the need to increase the property tax levy when the reserves generate $1.5 million a year in interest income.

The Stevens-Nicolai-Orcutt-Tribbett-Wangen contingent wrote a letter to the editor of the Austin Daily Herald challenging the county commissioners to answer their tough questions about reserves, the levy, compensation and other issues.

Their answers, according to the letter writers, are due at today’s Truth in Taxation hearing.

What have we here? Cranky taxpayers, perhaps. Misinformed citizens?

Not exactly. Actually, they are the people who Matt Smith wants to participate in the Truth in Taxation budget and levy process.

Smith, Minnesota’s revenue commissioner, said the Truth in Taxation process was created for them.

"The property tax is the only major tax where government and citizens can decide ahead of time exactly how much will be collected in total, regardless of what happens to market values," Smith said.

Smith is referring to the proposed 2001 property tax statements mailed by Mower County Auditor Woody Vereide. The statements share information about the combined impact of proposed budget decisions made by city, county, school district and other special taxing districts.

The levies and budgets are adopted later in December. The taxation hearings allow taxpayers to obtain information before they become final.

According to Smith, about 38 percent of all property tax is used for schools, 31 percent for counties, 25 percent for cities and the balance for townships and special taxing districts.

Each jurisdiction determines which services it thinks taxpayers want and those required by law. The proposed budgets determine the revenue needed and how much of it will come from the property tax.

"Truth in Taxation hearings enable Minnesota taxpayers to play a more active role in local government decision-making by knowing where local government plants to spend its property tax money," Smith said.