Other Views: Local property tax disparity needs fix

Wadena County Commissioners recently adopted this as a legislative priority.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following letter was written by Wadena County Commisioner Bill Stearns and adopted by the full county board as a legislative priority.

Counties were formed and operate under the "Dillon" rule, which means they were formed by the Legislature of the State of Minnesota. This is in contrast to the cities of Minnesota which were formed by the citizens that live there under the "Home Rule Charter" laws. The main difference is that the cities can do anything they want as long as there is not a statute stating they cannot. Counties on the other hand cannot do anything unless there is a statute stating they can do something, and in addition they have to do everything the state says they must do either through a state statute or an administrative rule.
The Minnesota Legislature has been passing laws with unfunded mandates for years. In addition Minnesota Governor's administrations have been formulating administrative rules and imposing them on counties for years also. This has resulted in billions of dollars of unfunded mandates that the counties have had to back fill through the county property tax levy.

Bill Stearns
Bill Stearns

The counties with the highest land and property values have had the least burden put on their taxpayers. The counties with the lowest land and property values have had the highest tax burden put on their taxpayers.

The counties with the lowest tax rates and lowest homeowner tax burden include:

  • Dakota County, .22716 tax rate, with a $535 county tax on a $250,000 home.
  • Rock County, .22722 tax rate with a $535 county tax rate on a $250,000 home.
  • Washington County, .27435 tax rate with a $646 county tax rate on a $250,000 home.

The Counties with the highest tax rates and the highest homeowner tax burden are:


  • Kanabec County, .89715 tax rate, with a $2,111 county tax on a $250,000 home.
  • Carlton County, .82593 tax rate, with a $1,943 county tax on a $250,000 home.
  • Wadena County, .80738 tax rate, with a $1,900 county tax on a $250,000 home.

The state average county tax rate is .47665, while the median county tax rate is .45430
This is "untenable." Where is the "One Minnesota"?

If a person or married couple who work in the State of Minnesota has a net taxable income of $100,000. He, she or they have the same tax burden no matter which county they live in. It matters not if they live in Hennepin, Rock, Dakota, Kanabec or Wadena. They all pay the same income tax. Not true of the property tax. If you are lucky enough to live in a county with a high taxable value you have a much lower property tax burden.

There is a theory that county lines in the state of Minnesota were drawn up so no one would have more than a days ride by horse and buggy to their county seat town. There is no way of knowing whether this is true or not. However, one thing that is certain is that they were not drawn up so the tax burden for the billions of dollars in unfunded state mandates were fairly distributed among all property taxpayers.

The County of Wadena in 1964 had 10 people employed in it's "Welfare" office. This is now called the Human Services office and has 58 employees. Since 1964, Wadena County has grown by only 1,400 people. The growth of this department has been dictated by statutes and administrative rules of the central state government; not the county commissioners. The county commissioners are being forced to unfairly tax their constituents at exorbitant rates just to fill the unfunded mandates of the central state government. 

It is time to equalize the property tax in the State of Minnesota.

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