How To Appeal Your Property Valuation Or Classification

2015 Property Valuation Notices began hitting mailboxes in the past few weeks, and if you haven’t received yours yet, you should be getting it very soon.

The Property Valuation Notice indicates the value and classification that will be used to set the property taxes that will be due in 2016. The valuation is the amount that will be used to calculate your property taxes, and the classification is how your property is classified for tax purposes.  (Examples of classifications include residential, commercial, agricultural, or rental housing.)

Once you receive your valuation notice, you have two options:

  1. You can accept the valuation and classification as is, in which case you don’t need to do anything.
  2. You can appeal your valuation or classification.

Last week the Crystal City Council met with assessors from Hennepin County to get an overview of the process for appeals of valuation or classification.

First, it’s important to understand that the valuation of a property is based off of an appraisal, which is an estimate of the value of the property at a point in time- January 2 of each year.  There is always a lag time between the appraisal and the valuation notice.  Valuations rely heavily on the sales of comparable properties in the area during the appraisal time period.  In addition, state law requires that properties are only inspected by assessors once every 5 years, so your valuation may be based on an old inspection.

So there are many reasons why the valuation of your property in your Valuation Notice may not reflect the current market conditions and could be higher or lower than you expect.

With that in mind, if you feel that your property value should be higher or lower, the first step in the appeal process is to contact the local assessor.

Step 1: Contact the local assessor
You can call the local assessor at 763-531-1117.

You can contact the assessor at any time with questions about your valuation, or the appeal process, but if you are planning to appeal your valuation, you should gather some supporting evidence to back up your position.  This could include:

  • A recent appraisal of your property
  • Recent sales of similar property in the area
  • Photos of your property
  • Photos or exhibits comparing neighboring properties to yours

If, after working with the local assessor, you cannot come to an agreement on a change to the valuation, you can appeal to the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization.

Step 2: Appeal to the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization (LBAE)

In Crystal, the LBAE is really just the city council.  We convene a meeting under a different statutory authority, but it’s the same group of people.

In 2015, our LBAE meeting is 7:00 PM on April 7 at Crystal City Hall.

Property owners can come to the LBAE meeting and appeal their valuation or classification directly to the LBAE.  You are not required to work with an assessor before the meeting, but it’s helpful if you do.  You will most likely be required to work with an assessor after the meeting anyway.

If you don’t want to appear personally at the LBAE meeting, you can submit your appeal in writing in advance of the LBAE meeting instead.

The LBAE can act to raise or lower your valuation based on the facts that are presented.

Step 3: Appeal to the County Board of Appeal and Equalization (CBAE)

If the LBAE doesn’t resolve your concerns to your satisfaction, you can appeal to the County Board of Appeal and Equalization.

Information on this process is located on the back of your Valuation Notice.  Note that you do need to contact the CBAE to get on the agenda, so you have to plan ahead if you plan to appeal to this level.

Optional Step: Minnesota Tax Court

You also have the right to resolve your case in MN tax court.

Information on this process is located on the back of your Valuation Notice.

I hope that this helps explain what can be a confusing process.  For more information, you can check out this fact sheet from the MN Department of Revenue, or contact your local assessor at 763-531-1117.

Council Meeting Recap, March 17, 2015

The Crystal City Council held Citizen’s Input Time, two work sessions, an EDA meeting, and a council meeting on March 17, 2015.

Because of time restraints I’m going to do a slightly abbreviated recap this week, focusing on two of the major issues we discussed at the council meeting.  My colleague Olga Parsons did a more comprehensive recap and I’ll send you over to her site for more details.

I do want to point out before I start that this was a fairly unique meeting in that we had three members absent.  Two were sick, and one had planned out of town travel.  One of the absent members was Mayor Adams, which meant that council member Julie Deshler, who is Mayor Pro Tem this year, acted as mayor for this meeting.

The two major issues I want to discuss are tobacco/alcohol penalties, and a cooperative agreement with Hennepin County.

State law requires that stores that sell tobacco be licensed by a city, or in areas where cities don’t do the licensing, by the county.  The law also requires that at least annually, the city (or county) perform compliance checks to make sure stores are not selling to underage individuals.

When an individual sells tobacco to a person who is under age, the individual is personally charged with a crime. In addition to charging the seller with a crime personally, state law requires cities to charge an administrative penalty to the holder of the tobacco license.  The state law proscribes a minimum penalty, but allows cities to adopt their own, stricter penalties.

The laws governing alcohol are a bit different, but most cities, including Crystal, have implemented compliance checks and civil penalties for license holders who violate the laws regarding the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors.

After the person who illegally sold the item has pled or been found guilty of the criminal act, the civil portion of the process is begun and the item will come before the city council.

The council has adopted guidelines for civil penalties by ordinance. The guidelines for a first violation are for a fine of up to $750, and loss of license for up to one day, and get more severe from there, ending with a revocation after the fourth violation within 36 months.  These are only guidelines.  The council has the discretion to adjust the penalties up or down based on the circumstances of each case, provided they don’t go lower than state law allows ($75 on a first tobacco offense).

There are a few instances where the council must act in what’s called a “quasi-judicial” manner, meaning that although council members are not judges in a court, they do act in a similar way.  They must have open minds, they can’t prejudge a matter, they must consider the circumstances of the matter in front of them, they can’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner.  Considering civil penalties is one of those instances.

Both of the incidents in front of the council were first time offenders, one for tobacco, one for alcohol.  Both failed their compliance checks.  Both made significant changes to their business processes to ensure they would not make a second offense.  One owner (tobacco) changed store policy to not allow anyone under 21 in the store, and the other (alcohol) bought and installed new software that wouldn’t allow a sale to complete until a valid ID was swiped into the cash register.

I voted in favor of a $750 fine for each business.  This is 10 times the state minimum required for tobacco violations.  The council was unanimous on the tobacco violation, and had one dissenting vote on the alcohol violation, with Mayor Pro Tem Deshler preferring a one day suspension of the alcohol license in addition to the fine.

I was really on the fence about the alcohol violation, and almost supported the license suspension.  However, the mitigating measure implemented by the owner (requiring a swiped ID at the point of sale) seemed very likely to prevent a second offense.

The second item I want to discuss is the adoption of a cooperative agreement between the City of Crystal and Hennepin County on the purchase of land that would be involved in the proposed rail connection in Crystal.

Hennepin County announced on March 11 that they had secured a purchase agreement for the land in the 5100 block of West Broadway, where Thomas Auto Body and North Suburban Towing currently sit.  This is the land the railroad would need to acquire in order to build the connection.

However, there was a question about whether Hennepin County had the authority to purchase this land outright.  The attorneys at the county felt that they would have the authority if they purchased the land under a cooperative agreement as authorized under MN law in section 383B.79.

This meant that the county would not (and maybe could not) purchase the land if Crystal did not sign a cooperative agreement.

I had, and still have, several concerns about this approach.  For one, the city of Crystal did not cooperate in a material way with the county in the acquisition of the land.  The entire deal was done by the county, and Crystal council members and staff were notified of the deal at a public rail meeting at the same time everyone else was.  I didn’t want to have the city sign a document that overstated our role in the process.

My other major concern is that I wanted to make sure that it was perfectly clear that the county was responsible for this purchase, including the full cost of acquisition and any legal costs that may arise out of the purchase.  I fully expect a legal challenge in this case, and I wasn’t going to commit the citizens of Crystal to a potentially expensive legal battle without some serious discussions about it, which were not had before this agreement was presented to us.

The initial draft of the agreement that was presented for us to vote on did not include any explicit language regarding Crystal’s financial obligations.  In fact, the entire agreement was quite vague.

All of my colleagues that were present at the meeting expressed similar reservations, and it was clear that the agreement would not be accepted in its current format.

Because the county was saying they would not purchase the property until we signed the agreement, this was a time sensitive manner.  We voted to continue the meeting from Tuesday night until Thursday night and asked for a new draft of the agreement that addressed our concerns.

The document that was presented when we reconvened included a statement that explicitly addressed that Crystal has no financial or legal obligation toward the project.  It also included some other clarifying language to address our other concerns.

The proposed agreement was passed by the council unanimously (by the members present, we were still short two members due to travel and illness).

I do believe that the county’s acquisition of the land was a good tactical move as we attempt to negotiate through the situation with the railroad connection.  But that said, the acquisition is not a “silver bullet”.  The matter is not resolved, and most likely will not be for some time.

It will require the attention and focus of the citizens of Crystal to keep themselves, and their elected officials at all levels, engaged in this process until it is ultimately resolved.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank council member Juile Deshler for her great work this past week.  As I mentioned above Julie is the Mayor Pro Tem which means that she has to step up when the Mayor is unavailable.  While Jim was at home with a nasty case of pneumonia, Julie had to run two council meetings, a few work sessions, deliver a State of the City address, and testify down at the capitol on rail safety.   She encountered a big unexpected challenge and really stepped up to the task.  Thanks Julie!


What The Governor’s Rail Safety Proposal Would Mean For Crystal

Last week Governor Dayton released a rail safety proposal that would seek to address rail safety concerns across Minnesota.  Since rail safety has been a hot topic in Crystal lately I thought I would take a look at what the rail safety proposal would mean for Crystal.

Earlier this week I spoke with Joanna Dornfeld, Governor Dayton’s Assistant Chief of Staff for transportation issues, to answer some of the questions I had about the plan.  Much of what I will write here came from that conversation.

First, it’s important to note that the Governor’s proposal is the result of community meetings that were held last year, and a rail safety survey that was completed before the proposed CP/BNSF connector project in Crystal was on the radar.   If the connector project were to move forward, that would most likely change what happens in regards to other projects in Crystal.  For the purposes of this review, we’ll assume a status quo where there is no CP/BNSF connection.

The Governor’s proposal identified 75 “high priority” railroad crossings across the state, with two of those being in Crystal: the CP crossings at Broadway Ave and Douglas Drive.  According to the study, those crossings were rated as “Adequate/Improvable,” meaning that the crossings have adequate safety measures (cants and gates) but could be improved to be even safer, by adding additional safety measures such as medians.

All 75 projects on the list would be funded by a new state-level assessment on railroads of $33 million per year.  The total list of 75 would cost about $330 million, so the idea would be to implement these upgrades over the period of 10 years.

It’s not known yet the order in which the projects would be addressed. I did ask if we should expect that Crystal would be at the latter end of the 10 year cycle because our crossings were rated as “adequate” but the answer was “not necessarily” because the scheduling of projects can be dependent on many other factors such as construction crew availability, railroad cooperation, other projects planned in the same area, etc.

Another part of the Governor’s proposal would change the way that property tax is calculated on railroad owned property.  The result would be an increase in property taxes paid by the railroad to the city.  The estimated amount of increase in revenue for Crystal would be about $26,000 per year.

In order to capture the additional revenue Crystal would need to increase our levy by the same amount.  If we did not, the increase paid by the railroads would offset taxes paid by other commercial businesses.

Revenue generated by this proposal would be general fund revenue for the city, and would not necessarily be dedicated to rail safety measures.

The Governor’s proposal is seeking to fund 4 grade separations in other parts of the state through bonding, though none in Crystal.  Separate from the Governor’s rail safety proposal, a bonding request has been made for a grade separation for the crossing at Douglas Drive in the MN Senate by Senator Ann Rest and in the MN House by Reps Carlson and Freiberg.

There are other details of the Governor’s proposal at this link, including the creation of a new Rail Office Director, more quiet zones, and training for first responders.

Thanks to Ms. Dornfeld at the Governor’s office for answering all my questions about this proposal, and to Rep Freiberg for connecting me with Ms. Dornfeld.

Rail Meeting Recap

We had a great meeting this morning at the Community Center regarding the proposed rail connection in Crystal.  Over 200 residents came out to learn more about the project and how they can help make an impact.

(For background on the project, click here and follow the links.)

If you couldn’t make it to the meeting, you can still help out.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB), a federal agency, is required to approve this project before it can move forward.

The STB has discretion on whether it will require a full environmental review (known as an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS) or a lesser environmental review.  It is our position that this project should require a full EIS so we can understand the impact to our community. We believe that an EIS will uncover serious issues that must be addressed before this project could go forward, if it could move forward at all.

Right now we are asking residents to contact the STB directly and request that they require a full EIS for the Crystal rail connection project.

You can help by writing a letter (handwritten is best) to the STB and our federal elected officials explaining that you are a concerned resident and that you want an EIS to happen.  (Addresses below)

We had pre-addressed post cards at available at the meeting today, and we’ll have more at City Hall on Monday afternoon.  Or, you can send it in your own envelope.

For more information, you can visit the dedicated page on the city’s website and/or the new Facebook Group for this project.

I’d also like to thank the mayors of Golden Valley, New Hope, and Robbinsdale, several council members from those cities, as well as Senator Rest, Representatives Freiberg and Carlson, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck and commissioner Mike Opat for attending the meeting today, the Crystal city staff for organizing the event, and Crystal Mayor Jim Adams for running a great meeting.

As always, if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance, please let me know.


Surface Transportation Board
Debra Miller, Acting Chairman
395 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20423

Senator Al Franken
Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641
Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244
Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison
Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755
Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411
2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515

Council Meeting Recap – March 3, 2015

The Crystal City Council held two work sessions, an EDA Meeting, and a council meeting on March 3, 2015.

The EDA meeting was quick, with only one agenda item, the approval of the sale of one lot owned by the EDA for the asking price.

At the first work session we discussed making charitable contributions to local food shelves.  By city ordinance, 10% of the net profits of any charitable gambling operation in in Crystal must be contributed to a fund administered by the city.  The city council will then make a decision on how to distribute any money in that fund.  There is about $1,500 in the fund this year.  In past years the council has designated those funds be split between NEAR and PRISM food shelves.  We decided to continue that tradition, so each organization will get a check for $750 from that fund.

At the council meeting, we considered the second reading of two ordinances, both of which were initially discussed at the February 17 meeting.  The first amends the zoning ordinance to allow impound lots as a conditional use in the Industrial (I-1) zone.  The second amends the ordinance regulating second hand goods dealers to clarify that a store selling refurbished appliances doesn’t count as a second hand goods dealer.   Both passed unanimously, as they did at the last meeting.

The next item was a resolution outlining how the city will finance the new Public Works facility.  The project was approved under the last council (before I joined) but despite extensive, often heated discussions about how to finance the project, the group ultimately never came to a clear consensus on the matter.

That meant when I joined the council I had to quickly get up to speed on the project.  I had followed the issue as an interested citizen, so I wasn’t starting from square one.  My initial thought was that we should bond (borrow) for a portion of the project, but after an in-depth review of the financing options (pay cash, bond for some portion, or bond for all of it) the cash option is the only one that made fiscal sense.

Bonding for any portion of the building would mean a tax increase.  Bonding for the entire building would mean a huge tax increase.  The concern with the all cash option was that we would leave the city vulnerable by spending down all of our available cash and potentially cause liquidity issues down the road.

Based on the numbers that I saw from our finance department, I did not feel that was a concern.  The major building fund had $10 million in it to contribute to this project.  The utilities fund is contributing $1 million, and the EDA is contributing $650,000.  The “gap” that we needed to cover ended up being about $1 million.

We will fund that gap with a short term loan from other city funds.  While that may sound a bit hokey (it did to me, hence my initial hesitation on the all cash plan), it makes more sense when you understand that the city doesn’t have a bunch of bank accounts.  There’s one big account, and we keep money segregated into different funds “on paper” only.  Ultimately, the money all comes from the citizens of Crystal.  It’s common to transfer money from one fund to another if the balances get out of whack (one fund too high, another too low) or if needs change (as they often do).  When you add up the money that is in all of the funds, I feel that there is enough liquidity to get us through even a major emergency scenario.  If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t have supported the all cash option.

Ultimately, I expect a little less than half of the gap will be closed at the end of 2015 by funds that have already been levied on the citizens (not a new tax).  That leaves a sizable but manageable amount to replenish in 2016.  It’s feasible that the short term loans could be fully replenished by the end of 2016, and by choosing an all cash option we avoided several hundred thousand dollars in finance charges.

The resolution approving the all cash financing plan passed 6-1, with council member Laura Libby voting in the dissent.  She preferred a financing plan that would have bonded (borrowed) for the entire cost of the project.

The next part of the meeting was near and dear to my heart, the adoption of new council rules.  Although this sounds like the most boring topic on Earth, to me it’s actually really important.

I believe that a legislative body like the council needs a clear set of rules to operate under.  If everyone understands the rules (and follows them!) it will go a long way toward diffusing conflict before it happens, and will allow the body to continue to operate even during times when there is significant disagreement between members.

Council member Casey Peak and I worked together to draft a set of rules, which were then discussed with the council at a work session.  We adopted some suggested changes from our attorney, the staff, and the full council, and the end result was the product which passed last night.

We had some goals going into the process, and I think we accomplished them:

  • To establish a set of rules governing the internal operations of the council
  • To clarify processes and expectations, decreasing conflict
  • To protect the rights of both the minority and majority, and ensure every member is heard
  • To put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council
  • Balance formality with flexibility
  • Develop the minimum amount of rules necessary to accomplish the goals above, in the clearest language possible

While one council cannot (and shouldn’t be able to) bind a future council to anything, I do hope that future councils continue our example of keeping in place a fair and clear set of rules that allows all members to be heard.

In order for the rules to take place, we needed to both formally adopt the rules, and then amend the ordinance that governs council procedures to accommodate the new rules.  The rules were adopted unanimously, and the first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously as well.  The ordinance will be up for a second reading at the next meeting.

After the council meeting we went into a work session that dealt with the process for interviewing applicants to advisory commissions or committees.

The council has a full review of the commission process on our plan for later this year, but we need to interview applicants for the Blue Line LRT advisory committee very soon, so now was a good time to look at our interview process and make changes.  We’ll use the new process for these interviews, and we’ll tweak it if necessary during our full review of commissions.

We had an extensive and very thoughtful discussion on the process, which I won’t attempt to recreate here, since I’m already over 1,100 words.  :)

The process we adopted is:

  • All applicants will be interviewed.
  • Interviews will be conducted by the full council (plus the commission chair, if there is one), at a work session.  Applicants will be interviewed sequentially, not as a group.
  • After all of the interviews are complete, each council member will rank the applicants, the scores will be aggregated, and the highest ranked applicant will be appointed.
  • There will be an option to hold the position open and seek additional applicants, if a majority of the council agrees it is necessary.

I will say that we looked at practices used in other cities and are more or less adopting a fairly common process though each city has slight variations.

We have a work session tomorrow (Thursday March 5) focused on council goals and priorities, and another one next week (Thursday March 12) where we will hear from the Parks Commission, which has a very lovely, beautiful and talented chair, who also happens to be my wife.  (I put that in there not only because it’s true, but to see if she actually reads my recaps.)

The next council meeting is March 17.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.