Fillmore County Assessor Jason McCaslin was present at the April 6 Fountain Council meeting to discuss changes to the city’s tax values. Like many other municipalities in the county, Fountain will see an increase to its building values, largely driven by the spike in housing market sales.
The county is required by state statute to value property every year and conduct an onsite appraisal once every five years. “It can fluctuate based on what’s going on in the housing market. As we all know, the housing market right now is insane,” said McCaslin. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.”
Overseen by the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Fillmore County must maintain certain statistics within its jurisdictions to continue compliance with the state. The county utilizes a time adjustment so that all sales are based upon values in January of each year. Because of inflation we’re experiencing and city sale ratios, the city rate drops down out of compliance after that time adjustment. “That’s what the increase in value you all experienced was based on,” added McCaslin.
Typically, if there are five or less sales within a jurisdiction, the assessor’s office does not need to readjust to maintain compliance. Fountain is over this limit and must thus be adjusted using a five-year sales study to ensure figures correlate to what the office is seeing. “Because of discrepancies, I’m not making any adjustment to Fountain’s commercial market,” said McCaslin. “As you go back, it’s that fluctuating that’s preventing me from coming and getting anything dialed in. Ultimately, my appraisal staff I and will be reappraising commercial properties within the year to try to get that all dialed in.”
The city will see a 17% increase to residential building values, equalizing the median ratio. “Are you guys alone in this? No. Actually, you experienced one of the lowest increases in the county,” explained McCaslin. “It’s been a pretty interesting spring to say the least.”
It was also noted that a majority of property owners attempt to appeal when Truth in Taxation statements arrive. “At that point it’s really too late,” said McCaslin. “Our hands are more or less tied.” Instead, he suggested property owners address concerns before June of each year when the county board of appeal and equalization meets.
“I want to reiterate that just because there’s an increase, the impact to your tax capacity isn’t necessarily going to come out to that amount,” added McCaslin.
All data is available online to anyone and the county’s Beacon website lists all assessment values within Fillmore County. If there is a discrepancy, McCaslin recommends property owners call the county assessor’s office so an appraiser can come and determine if a correction is needed. “We have all new staff in the office. They’re very smart, dedicated, and hardworking. There’s a lot of promise in this group,” said McCaslin. “What that translates to is that I expect my appraisers to make all the data their own, measuring and documenting everything themselves. It’s important for them to make the data their own.”
When it comes to trust for the assessor’s office, the council questioned just what happens during an appraisal and what happens if appraisers aren’t allowed access to properties. “We come out and walk the property and do an exterior inspection. If we gain access, we go into the basement. A good way to tell how well built is looking at floor joists because that construction is typically carried through the rest of the house. The rest of the time in the house is a quick glance in the house,” explained McCaslin. “We’re not going to go through every room or open closets. We just get a feel for what updates have been done.”
McCaslin estimates that access into 50-60% of homes is outstanding. “We don’t have the reputation and that trust yet in Fillmore County. We’re maybe averaging 10-15% tops, but it’s closer to 20-25% in some municipalities,” he continued. “Once we build that trust it makes things easier.”
“It’s all based on assumptions if we can’t get into the house,” he added. By not allowing access to appraisers can backfire when exteriors have seen improvements and interiors haven’t because appraisals are based on assumptions as seen. The assessor’s office will contact city hall to help notify residents when it’s time for Fountain to be reappraised on site.
The council also discussed the 2022 Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Fountain agreed to host the event for the next two years. Councilor Colleen Foehrenbacher is currently chairperson, a position she wasn’t necessarily expecting when the city agreed to host. “Because of that, I’m going to need some help planning this because it’s a big event. It usually draws about 700 people,” noted Fohrenbacher.
Originally, the date for the event was during the Fillmore County Fair, so the council approved moving it to August 19. The city will be careful to ensure no other events are planned within the city that day so there are no location, traffic, or safety conflicts. The plan is currently to utilize the community center for the event dinner and the city park for the relay.
“I’m feeling good about the event night,” added Fohrenbacher. “We’re not going to do a 24-hour event, but instead 3 p.m. to midnight.” Organizers are seeking suggestions and volunteers for meal planning, someone to serve as master of ceremonies, assistance with gathering donations and setting up the silent auction, as well as donations from those within the county. Most importantly, community volunteers will be needed to set up and help run the event.
In other news, the city approved a resolution following a public hearing for a Tax Increment Financing District, as well as a quote from KLM for cleaning an inspection of the water tower, a $8,300 cost. Formal permission was also given, via annual permit, for Frontier to access their equipment.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, May 4, at 7 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.