LA CRESCENT — A handful of residents convened in La Crescent City Hall on April 19, where the council chambers hosted the annual Houston County board of appeal and equalization.
County Assessor Luke Onstad, who began his position in February, appeared to hear the first round of appeals. Those were continued, along with the council’s decisions, at the council’s regular monthly meeting on April 26.
“I also want to point out that these are just our recommendations,” Onstad said.
Once the appeals are voted on by the council, he said, the decisions will go to the County Board for its approval.
As defined by the Minnesota Department of Revenue, “the purpose of the Board of Appeal and Equalization is to provide a fair and objective forum for property owners to appeal their valuation or classification. The local board often serves as the first formal step in the appeals process for taxpayers.”
On April 19, while there were less than a dozen appeals, several passionate arguments were presented, perhaps most prominently Dick Wieser, representing the group who owns the La Crescent Area Event Center, which includes a Best Western hotel, at 595 Veterans Parkway.
The property was estimated at $2 million for taxes payable in 2021, but for 2022 it jumped to $2,232,900.
“The hotel business cannot absorb about $12,000 of real estate taxes per month,” Wieser said. “Some of our months, we hardly had that much in total revenue.”
Wieser implored the city and county to reconsider the group’s “unique situation.” He said the hotel wasn’t built to be a “money-raiser,” rather as a “goodwill effort” by the investors.
“We’re helping the city, and the city’s kind of helping us,” he said. “We’re helping more the community.”
Wieser appealed the new estimated market value, asking that it not be raised above $2 million, which even he agreed was low.
“If we’re going to keep the hotel open,” he said, “we’re going to have to have some relief.”
Ryan Hanifl, who read a prepared speech, said his family was the first family to build a permanent home in Shore Acres, where the tax burden for four parcels they own went up 40 percent most recently.
“It would be devastating to be taxed out of the neighborhood that my parents helped build,” Hanifl said.
He asked for consideration of some sort of decrease in the proposed tax burden.
Onstad said the entire Shores Acres area will be reevaluated, but he was also quick to point out that while changes, or even an abatement, could be corrected, “matters of opinion” from the previous county assessor cannot.
A few of the residents returned for the council’s decisions when they reconvened the board of equalization at its April 26 meeting, although Onstad said he spoke with everyone who had appealed during the previous week.
Mayor Mike Poellinger, who was present briefly via Zoom, was unable to vote at the meeting.
Regarding the event center and hotel, Onstad said he wouldn’t recommend lowering the estimated market value of approximately $2.2 million. He also said the estimated market value of the hotel and the event center property was based on sales in surrounding areas, including Winona and La Crosse.
“Also, I just have to remind you, that this meeting is about estimated market value,” Onstad said. “I know from speaking with Dick [Wieser], there was an agreement between the city and Dick to not have the taxes over a certain amount. This is not the meeting to do that.”
Onstad said an agreement with the city is acceptable, but it must come separately. The purpose of the current meeting, he again stressed, was to determine estimated market value, not about tax amounts.
“Lowering the value here puts that tax burden on all of Houston County,” Onstad said.
City Attorney Skip Wieser said no agreement exists between the hotel group and the city regarding keeping their tax burden low.
Dick Wieser, who was again in attendance, said this is not the year to raise their valuation, although he again admitted it probably is low. Even so, raising the tax burden is just too much.
“It’s not a good deal for our community,” Dick Wieser said.
The council ultimately voted to reduce the property’s estimated market value to $2.1 million, notwithstanding Onstad’s recommendation.
Three of Hanifl’s four parcels were also adjusted lower by the council, some even below Onstad’s recommendations, and as with all of the council’s decisions over the two meetings, the results will now go to the county board for consideration.
Appeals can still be heard at the county board, Onstad confirmed.
Susan Bolsvert, who owns apartments located at 310 S. Oak St. and returned to the second meeting, said her issue isn’t with her 2022 taxes, it’s with her 2021 taxes.
“I guess I don’t know how to get that corrected or abated,” Bolsvert said.
Onstad said she’s not eligible for an abatement or change, based on the previous appraisal from another county assessor, which he called “a matter of opinion.”
“It’s just tough to swallow that,” Bolsvert said.
She pointed out that her property was valued the same for at least a four year period, then it went up almost $100,000, then dropped $80,000, “and I have to pay $2,000 more in taxes because of that person’s opinion, which is not substantiated.”
Bolsvert also said she still isn’t clear when on the calendar she can make a meaningful appeal, and that’s a hard lesson to learn.
“Last year, when I got that notice of the increase, I had no idea what the tax consequence [was],” Bolsvert said. “There’s such a time period between the spring and the fall, when you get your estimated market value and the taxes. To me, estimated market value doesn’t mean much, because I’m not going to sell the property, but the taxes mean a lot. So, I come in the fall, to that meeting, and that’s not right. That’s too late. I guess it’s frustrating to me. I guess I’d like to have a meeting closer to the tax time.”
A full list of all appeals, as well as the council’s decisions, are on file at La Crescent City Hall.
“The hotel business cannot absorb about $12,000 of real estate taxes per month. Some of our months, we hardly had that much in total revenue.”
Dick Wieser, representing owners' group