Property owners had the opportunity to bring their concerns about taxation before Wadena County Commissioners Monday afternoon during the annual tax equalization meeting to see if they could get a change to their property valuations.
Among those present were a unique spread of properties including a Wadena eye clinic, an electrician's property, an apartment classified as commercial and a hunting shack. Commissioners went over each property one at a time with county assessor Lee Brekke and county auditor/treasurer Heather Olson.
One topic which took considerable time was the Azure Vision Care in Wadena. While originally taxed as an office building in 2014, a change in classification to medical office in 2017 raised the valuation by $60,000. Property owner Bill Hartman said he couldn't wrap his head around how a building that's physically not changed could suddenly jump in value that much-with nothing more than a click of a mouse.
County assessor Lee Brekke said it was a mistake that the property was not classified as medical office from the beginning and that it's now the correct category.
Hartman still questioned what made a building a medical office compared to non-medical as there were no x-rays, no tissue removal. It appeared the main difference was that the building had a sink in most every office, 13, plus multiple bathrooms and a water fountain. It seemed to be a higher amount of plumbing that set it apart. Hartman repeatedly asked for a definition for a medical office that could be used to explain what makes a medical office a medical office. He did not seem to be satisfied with the idea that plumbing and fixtures created a medical office.
Brekke noted that the valuation of the property was about $70 per square foot, which was below the low end of the medical office values. He cited a range of $74 - $120 per square foot for medical offices in the region. Hartman noted that the cost of building the structure was considerably more than what the valuation was.
After much discussion, the commissioners agreed to make a change on the valuation of the eye clinic, dropping the value from about $384,000, to $354,000. All were in favor of the motion except commissioner Jim Hofer.
• The board received a letter but no one was present to speak about concerns of a value increase for the building owned by Craig Folkestad, currently rented by All Around Divas Boutique. While the building was bought for $47,500, the value of the property was assessed at over $100,000. Commissioners heard the value was still quite low for commercial property in downtown Wadena. They voted to make no change on the valuation.
• Commissioners heard about a recommended drop in value of the Fair Oaks Lodge Apartments and a reclassification from commercial to apartments. While the value of the property was reduced by $350,000 by the local board, to around $1 million, the request was that the value drop further to about $350,000, based on an income approach to value. After much discussion about the actual value of the apartment building, commissioners accepted the reduced value of $1,020,100 and reclassified the building as apartment.
• They then approved all other recommendations as presented, including increasing Daniel Cameron's property value by $15,500 because of a switch to agriculture from residential; decreasing the value $19,100 on Cecille Harrison's property due to unfinished portion of building; decreasing the Steven Benson property by $22,800 since a portion of his shop was not living quarters, but a basketball court; and lowering a value by $8,700 following a switch to bunk house/hunting shack classification.
Regarding that classification change, commissioner Jon Kangas and Chuck Horsager both suggested the county could have a pamphlet or something on the website that explained what made a building a certain classification and what a structure might cost a resident in taxes. Brekke said the county can provide cost estimates based on a resident's plans.