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Push for tax transparency gets some pushback

“Happy Minnesota Property Taxpayer’s Day!”

You might be able to extend such a greeting via HF496.

The idea is that – rather than have every county, school district and municipality select its own date for the annual “Truth in Taxation” hearing – everyone would hold theirs on the first Wednesday evening after the first Monday of December. And it would be declared Minnesota Property Taxpayer’s Day.

There’s more than that to the bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), which was introduced to the House Property Tax Division Wednesday and laid over for possible inclusion in the division report. There is no Senate companion.

It would also establish a nine-member citizens’ property tax advisory committee in each jurisdiction to provide input prior to the certification of proposed property tax levies. And it would require additional information be sent with the notice of proposed property taxes.

“This is an effort to enhance the truth in taxation process that began in 1990,” Marquart said. “It would allow citizens to have genuine input on the front end of the process, not the back end. It would also allow them to have more information on the levy, and it would provide a consistent, predictable day on which they can offer input.”

But testifiers representing cities and school districts said reception to the proposal has been largely negative.

Gary Carlson, intergovernmental relations director for the League of Minnesota Cities, said the chief objections among municipal leaders around the state are that a nine-member advisory council is unrealistic – “We have challenges getting people to run for city council” was a common reply, he said – as is condensing tax levy information to the one page asked for in the bill.

“Many smaller cities share staff and would have to staff meetings in two different cities,” Carlson said. “And some cities still don’t have the technology for citizens to participate remotely.”

Denise Dittrich, director of government relations for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said the timeline doesn’t work for school districts where budgets run from July to June. She added that some school districts are in more than one county, or, conversely, some counties have as many as 10 different school districts. Hence, there would be conflicting meetings.

“We are all for the public getting involved with the process,” said Cap O’Rourke, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Small Cities. “But we’d prefer an incentive, not a mandate.”

Marquart said that he is open to input on improving the bill. The division chair, Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), said that plans are for Marquart to return to answer member questions about the bill in two weeks.

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