Dec 11, 2008

Taxes and Bureaucrats

Every time I’ve had an “experience” with a Minnesota state bureaucrat, I’ve wondered what makes westerners so much more interested in democracy than easterners. By that statement I mean, most western states put a bit in state government’s mouth with their referendum system. Eastern states, apparently populated by less involved semi-citizens, are big believers in non-participant “representative government.”

The older I get and the more powerful communications technology becomes, the less faith, or interest, I have in representative government. It was a rational system when it took a new President or Senator two months to ride a horse to Washington to take office, but it’s absolutely primitive today. Every major function of government, including budgeting, could be voted on, electronically, by citizens and the bureaucracy would be left with only the task of serving the public good. If they fail at their task; that department’s funding would reflect that failure in the next budget. With our current system, failure appears to be justification for more funding.

Now, to the local point at hand.

I received my 2009 Proposed Property Tax statement. The Ramsey County website indicated on the bill ( explained that “Ramsey County property appraisers will be available for individual market value consultations in adjacent rooms beginning at 5:30 p.m.” Along with hundreds of other Ramsey County taxpayers, I attended this meeting and took a number for my “individual market value consultation.”

After waiting for two hours, I was led to a desk where a “consultant” told me, “You understand that there is nothing I can do to lower your property tax evaluation here?”

Of course, I or the other 300-500 citizens waiting for a consultation understood no such thing, but he proudly pointed to the small print on the statement that said, “The period to discuss possible changes has passed and changes can no longer be made to your property valuation. It is included here for your information only.” The people who write this crap for the county must take an English as A Foreign Language writing course before they are allowed to print gibberish on official paper.

If the title of the form is “2009 Proposed Property Tax (their italics and bold print, not mine), you’d think that changes, in fact, can be made. I’d love to know what noun the “it” in “It is included” refers to.

I was told by one bureaucrat that it was a relatively simple matter to protest the county’s appraisal, which should reflect current market values including duress sales (fast approaching the majority of sales in the current market). The “consultant” to whom I was assigned, however, told me that the 2009 property evaluation was based on the 2007 market value and could not be revised to reflect the real market. I was warned that any attempt to take this issue to Minnesota Tax Court would require a several hundred dollar private appraisal, and would be contested by the county.

I am going to accept that challenge and cause exactly as much trouble for that department as possible. Hell, I might even hire a lawyer just to wrangle my property evaluation down to a realistic value. I’d rather spend the money on a private lawyer than these arrogant county deadbeats.

Here are some references for your personal fight:

The Pioneer Press, that uber-conservative property value booster that it is, recently stuffed a report back in the Business section explaining that Twin Cities property values are down "19 percent from the median of $216,500 [to $175,000] during the same month last year." The article tried to invent a stabilizing trend by claiming that "traditional" listings were only down 2 percent from the previous year, but asking price and selling price are growing more distant every day we drift further down this several-year recession path and toward a national depression.

From my experience tonight, I can tell you several places where I'd make massive cuts in the state and county budget.