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Continued: Tax changes vex metro-area homeowners

Darlene Aliperto, the self-described "executive director of the Aliperto household" in St. Paul, called her tax bill "incredible." The numbers dumbfounded Eric Voth, a math Ph.D. from Maplewood.

Dick Houck, a Roseville retiree on a fixed income, was just plain upset.

"My taxes are going up 10 percent ... outrageous for what I live in," Houck told Ramsey County commissioners at a truth-in-taxation hearing a couple of weeks ago. "There's just no way that you can continue to increase the spending and expect the taxpayers to pick up the difference on it. It's too much and we've got to cut it down all the way from the top. You're the problem."

But the problem this year with metro-area property taxes goes beyond the Ramsey County Board -- which plans to cut spending by $18 million -- and other counties, cities and school districts, many of which this month are approving smaller budgets for 2012.

What's really causing heartburn from Plymouth to Inver Grove Heights is the Legislature's decision to replace the state's longtime homestead tax credit, which cost $538 million, with a homestead market value exclusion that costs the state nothing but has resulted in a dramatic shift of the local tax burden.

According to a chart compiled by the Star Tribune of potential 2012 property tax bills for median-valued homes in the metro area, most homeowners again this year will see their tax bills rise despite the continuing plunge in home values. Anoka County looks to have the most widespread tax cuts, while the vast majority of Ramsey County taxpayers will be paying more.

The Ramsey hearing drew 45 speakers, 20 of whom objected to their projected tax bills, while a handful protested the county's plans to build a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. On the other hand, the state's largest county, Hennepin, heard from just 14 citizens.

Larry Forsberg of Stillwater, one of only two who spoke at Washington County's hearing Thursday night, railed against his 5 percent tax increase.

"Why doesn't somebody have the courage to cut taxes when values are going down?" he asked.

The story is similar to last year, when homeowners also found they owed higher taxes even though property values were flat or shrinking. Then, it was because industrial-commercial values were dropping, forcing homeowners to take up the slack.

This year, the replacement of the state tax break with a system that excludes part of a home's value from taxation also has the effect of shrinking the tax base. That shifts more of the burden to businesses and higher-valued homes.

Other factors are at work as well. Property tax bills combine levies by county, city and school district, making accountability difficult. Cities and counties are struggling with state cuts in aid that they've relied on for years, even while still having to pay for mandates that the state requires but doesn't fund.

As local jurisdictions approve their budgets and tax levies for 2012, here's a rundown on how things are shaking out in the metro area's seven counties.

Anoka

The Anoka County Board earlier this month approved a 2012 budget that's 7.4 percent smaller than this year's spending plan and a property tax levy that is $8 million lower. Officials said that taxes haven't been cut there in at least 30 years. Many Anoka cities will see lower tax bills next year.

Carver

The Carver County Board, which will approve its budget and levy Tuesday, agreed in September to cut the levy by at least 2.2 percent. Taxes on median-valued homes should be fairly stable, and some Victoria residents may actually see taxes drop by as much as $220. Chanhassen residents generally will pay higher taxes.

Dakota

The Dakota County Board, which will act on its budget and levy Tuesday, is expected to keep next year's levy unchanged. The county's tax rate this year was the lowest in the state. That is reflected in cities like Rosemount, where taxes on a median-valued home are going down as much as 10.8 percent, and Hastings, which will register a 4 percent drop.

Hennepin

The Hennepin County Board will act Tuesday on a 2012 budget that is 3 percent smaller than this year's and a tax levy of about $1 million less. The biggest suburban tax hikes on a median-valued home are in portions of Edina (5.5 percent), Minnetonka (5.3 percent) and Plymouth (5.1 percent). In Minneapolis, a 4.7 percent increase on a median-valued home will add $133 to the tax bill. The biggest tax cuts will be in portions of Brooklyn Center, a decrease of 11 percent on some median-valued homes.

Ramsey

The Ramsey County Board will vote Tuesday on its 2012 budget and tax levy, for which it set a ceiling of 1.7 percent -- the highest potential increase among metro counties. Nowhere in the county, outside of a portion of Maplewood, are taxes slated to come down on median-valued homes. Arden Hills is facing the biggest tax boost on median-valued homes, a range of 8.1 to 9.2 percent that translates into tax hikes as high as $324. The portion of St. Anthony in Ramsey County is looking at an 8.2 percent increase.

Scott

The Scott County Board will vote Dec. 20 on its budget and a proposed levy increase of just under 1 percent. Belle Plaine will see the biggest increase on median-valued homes, 5.1 percent or a tax hike of $122, followed by 4.8 percent hikes in Prior Lake and Shakopee.

Washington

The Washington County Board will vote Tuesday on its 2012 budget and tax levy, which will not go up for the second consecutive year. Taxes in Hugo will fluctuate dramatically depending on where people live; in some parts of town, taxes on median-valued homes will go up by 8.6 percent, while other portions will see drops of 7.7 percent. Woodbury will see tax hikes as high as 5.4 percent. Washington County Commissioner Dennis Hegberg said that the county had cut costs to keep its portion of taxes low even while a growing population brings more demand for services. "I don't know how we can squeeze it much more," he said.

Staff writer Kevin Giles contributed to this story. kduchschere@startribune.com • 612-673-4455 | alonetree@startribune.com • 612-875-0041

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