County considers property tax values

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

At an evening session on June 20, Houston County commissioners looked at property taxes, roadwork bids, personnel matters, and more.

No residents attended a separate Houston County Board of Equalization meeting which commissioners convened, but county assessor Cynthia Cresswell-Hatleli and employee Carl Ask reported on property valuation changes for taxes payable in 2018 nonetheless.

Caledonia Township residential properties will see a 10% increase, while La Crescent Township, the City of Caledonia and the City of Brownsville will all see 6% bumps. Residential properties in Mound Prairie Township, the City of Eitzen and the City of Hokah will get 5% increases. Agricultural and rural vacant land will see 4.4% increases while “woods and waste” acres values will increase by 4%. Commercial properties and apartments will have no changes, county-wide. All of the changes reflect information gleaned from real estate sales figures, Cresswell-Hatleli explained.

The assessor also asked commissioners to reduce the estimated market value on 25 residential properties within Caledonia Township, following an investigation her office made after taxpayers owning residential homes “inquired about excessive increases on their statements.”

Two dozen properties in three subdivisions saw 13–17% increases, while another received a 17% hike due to a coding error, Cresswell-Hatleli added.

Commissioners voted to trim those values to keep increases in line with remaining residential properties within the township.  Cresswell-Hatleli said that the reduction in valuations totals $437,758, which “is less than 1% of the aggregate assessment of Caledonia Township.”

The board will soon begin meeting with department heads as they take on the task of setting the county’s 2018 budget.

Roadwork bids accepted

The board voted to accept the offer of low-bidder Dunn Blacktop (Winona) to provide shouldering on County State Aide Highways 6, 13, 21 and 25. The $199,666 bid was 1.74% under the engineer’s estimate. Another ballot approved a $136,396 offer from ICON Constructors (Mabel) to remove and replace a 16-inch culvert on County 27 which has repeatedly been blamed for waters over-topping the highway. That project will install a much larger box culvert to remedy the problem. The Mabel firm’s offer to fix the issue (located about a mile southeast of Spring Grove) was the lowest of four received, at 30.42% less than the engineering estimate. It includes the cost of the precast box culvert.

Other votes

Commissioners also voted to appoint Ashley Dress to the Houston County Economic Development Authority through the end of 2017. At that time, her term will line up with other members ready for renewal.

A new job description and banding study (to set a pay rate) for the unfilled position of “geographic information systems specialist” was approved, as was a competitive search already underway to fill the post.

Personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger also asked the board to approve a $325 per month tool stipend for highway department mechanic Shane McCabe, but they demurred, asking for more information on just how those rates are set. The board did vote to provide McCabe with a $30 per month mobile phone stipend, effective July 1. Commissioner Scott Connor abstained, stating that he is related to the mechanic.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to approve a new job description for a pair of “lead social worker,” positions along with an associated banding recommendation from Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (St. Paul).

Three probationary Sheriff’s Office employees were granted regular employment status. They include jailer/dispatcher Tyler Fabian, lead jailer/dispatcher Dean Ott, and lead jailer/dispatcher Samantha Hancock.

Finally, a $50 per month “mobile computing device” stipend was  approved for recently hired emergency management director Olivia Niday.

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Commissioners learned that the City of Albert Lea has decided not to borrow FAA airport entitlement funds from Houston County. No alternative plan for saving those dollars for future work at the Houston County Airport was proposed.

The board debated a new long-term lease for the Houston County Agricultural Society (aka Houston County Fair Board) for county-owned land where the county fair is held each year. However, they did not vote on the matter just yet. The current Houston County Fair Board lease runs through 2019, and has traditionally been for 20 years, county staff reported. But with building plans underway to replace some livestock venues, the Fair Board is seeking a new 50-year lease before investing in new structures, Commissioner Fred Arnold reported.