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Property taxes didn't pack predicted punch

By now, all Washington County taxpayers have received their tax statements.

And some may have been pleased with the 0.2 percent reduction from the proposed amount sent out in the fall.

In total, Washington County billed out $374.8 million, an increase of 1.5 percent over 2012.

The 2012 amount of $369.3 million was a 3.7 percent jump from the year before, according to data released by the Department of Property Records and Taxpayer Services.

Taxes aren't always the same across the board though.

Tax Division Manager Joanne Helm said while about 66 percent of residential homestead properties saw a decrease in their tax bills, one-third experienced an increase.

"That's pretty much the reverse of what we were seeing last year," she said.

Helm discussed the results with Washington County Board of Commissioners at an April 9 workshop.

The report came out ahead of budget talks that are supposed to kick-start this summer and be finalized this fall.

A report analyzing property values across the county was also recently released, where the county assessor's office said many homes are seeing signs of life again.

But one of the most common questions received from taxpayers after getting their statements is "If my value went down, how could my taxes go up?" Helm said.

Using a formula, she said the homestead exclusion is a sliding scale and it tends to shift the tax between the values, meaning the higher the value, the less taxes paid.

"That just adds to the complexity," Helm said.

Additionally, commercial, industrial and utility parcels experienced an increase - 6.3 percent is the median value, according to the data.

The report says a state tax rate increase of 2.8 percent is why commercial properties are paying higher taxes this year.

It also credits the jump in the fiscal disparity tax, which is part of a metrowide program that addresses a growing fiscal problem.

Washington County will be a contributor in the fiscal disparity pool for the first time this year, which means taxpayers will pay more into the pool than they receive back in reimbursements.

"I really enjoy getting the phone calls on the fiscal disparity," Commissioner Gary Kriesel joked.

The county is considered a loser in the program that gives other counties like Ramsey and Anoka more money based on market value per capita.

"If we do a good job by keeping taxes as low as possible, we're getting punished," Kriesel said, expressing his frustration with the program.

On the bright side, some county residents may be eligible for a property tax refund. The information is included in this year's statement, an item that's often overlooked.

County officials predict that a small number of the local population will get a refund, however, they encourage all residents to look into whether or not they're eligible.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.