Some Roberts County ag land values will jump 65 percent

Roberts County

Shannon Marvel

Many landowners of agricultural property in Roberts County will see a drastic increase in their property tax valuations this year after officials discovered that adjustments based on market sales had yet to be removed in accordance with state law.

Removing the adjustments will boost values for most of the ag land from 15 to 65 percent, according to Roberts County Director of Equalization Sheri Gamber.

The higher increases are across the bulk of the county, though a region in the northwestern corner of the county within the Red River Valley won’t see any increases, she said.

She added that a region in the south-central part of the county will only see a few adjustments.

A decade ago, the state shifted the way it assesses ag land from a model based on market sales to one based on the productivity of land. The top per-acre amount is now based on gross revenue per acre during the previous eight years. It is different for every county and changes every year.

However, the previous Roberts County director of equalization neglected to take market-based adjustments off in 2010, state officials explained during a public meeting last week in Sisseton.

More than 50 people attended the meeting in the Sisseton Performing Arts Center.

Lesley Coyle, director of property tax for the state Department of Revenue, explained how everything managed to go unnoticed by the state for so long.

“Ten years ago, when we started productivity, we counted on the local director of equalization to tell us how many of these market adjustments there were and if they’ve been taken off,” she said during the meeting.

“Assuming that all those local people in charge had removed all the market adjustments, we went forth with productivity and phased it in over 10 years. That being said, we found these legacy adjustments that are obviously quite old that need to be taken off,” Coyle said.

She added that the market adjustments had been made as long as 30 years ago.

Brown County last year found itself in a similar situation but for different reasons. When the market system was dismissed, a map was implemented that divided the county into three neighborhoods with ag land likely to sell for more assessed at a higher rate — 118 percent of the top amount allowed by the state.

The state Department of Revenue ruled that system was improper, and Brown County has since changed its assessment plan. But six landowners who paid more than their share in property taxes because of the map have filed a civil lawsuit seeking larger refunds than offered by the county. And the county is trying to sort out how to lower assessments in the 15 affected townships without penalizing landowners in different parts of the county.

Phasing in increases

Gamber, who took over as Roberts County director of equalization three years ago, presented a plan that would help ease the increase for affected landowners by spreading them out over the next three years.

“Right now, I have two options. I have the option to pull the entire region adjustment off starting (Feb. 4) when I go back to the office. Or I could do it in a three-year term. I’m hoping the Department of Revenue will back us up on the proposed plan,” she said at the Feb. 1 meeting.

With it, ag land owners whose valuations would increase by 65 percent would only see an increase of 20 percent on their 2019 taxes payable in 2020.

The next year, those property owners would then see a 25 percent increase in valuations.

And in 2021, they would see the remainder of full 65 percent increase because the historical market adjustments would be off completely, Gamber said.

A 465-acre piece of land in the region where valuations are expected to increase by 65 percent could see a $2,466 increase in property taxes next year, she said.

If Gamber’s three-year plan is approved by the state, that hypothetical farm unit would see an increase of $822 per year for the next three years, according to documents presented during the meeting.

The state is reviewing the proposal.

“The reason why we are here today is because I want you to know what I’m going to do instead of you finding out later in March when you get the assessment notice and you see that the value of your land has increased anywhere from 15 percent as high as 65 percent,” Gamber said.

“I cannot do that without your support. So, that’s we’re here. It’s not because I want to do this, it’s state-mandated by state statute. It’s an informational meeting to let you know this is what has to happen,” she said.

Landowners in Roberts County listen on Feb. 1 to information about why ag land values will sharply increase this year.
Tom Bisek, a landowner in Roberts County, discusses state laws that dictate how ag land is assessed and the adjustments that can legally be made.