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Fighting the 'tax man:' Court raises Estimated Market Value above the county's

A decision in a recent court challenge to Hubbard County property valuations may give homeowners pause before they race to the courthouse.

A Stillwater attorney with a summer home on Spider Lake said he is still deciding whether to appeal the local court decision ruling against him in a challenge of his property's valuations.

"It's a very anomalous decision," said Duane E. Arndt of the Jan. 14 court ruling that significantly raised his estimated market value and property taxes two out of three years.

"Well, it raises the assessments when assessments were going down. That's what makes it anomalous," Arndt said.

In April 2009, Arndt appealed the valuation of three tracts of land that has lakefront on Spider and Crow Wing lakes. The following year he amended his petition to include taxes payable for the years 2008-10 on the same three tracts, contending property values elsewhere were dropping while his were rising.

He took his case to Tax Court, which is also Hubbard County District Court.

He withdrew suits on two of the tracts and the case went to trial in two separate hearings last fall.

The third tract, the subject of the trial, has 2,000 feet of lake frontage on Crow Wing Lake and 3,000 feet of frontage on Spider Lake. Arndt built a log home on the property on 1977.

The 50.5 acres in Mantrap Township weren't prime lakeshore, Arndt maintained, and county assessor Bob Hansen overvalued them.

In January 2008, the county assessor valued the property at $426,200; in 2009 at $400,100 and in January 2010 at $370,900.

Tiffany, in his ruling, noted "the median sales ratios for the assessments at issue fall within the required 90 to 105 percent range for seasonal recreational values in Mantrap Township and Hubbard County."

Arndt hired an appraiser who put the value of the property at $300,000 as of February 2010.

"The appraisal was not conducted in a retrospective manner and was based on a single comparable property," Tiffany's order stated. "The Court finds the appraisal highly subjective."

Hubbard County retained appraiser Rachel Creager of Park Rapids. Using Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, she valued the property at $428,000 in 2008; $416,000 in 2009 and $408,000 in 2010.

Tiffany said there was "no evidence to demonstrate the County has conducted its valuation of the subject property in an arbitrary fashion, noting it is the taxpayer's burden to show the assessor's valuation is excessive.

Tiffany then ordered the 2008 estimated market value raised from $426,000 to $428,000; the 2009 EMV adjusted from $400,000 to $416,000 and the 2010 EMV from $370,900 to $408,000.

Tiffany praised the way the county office assesses property, indicating a great deal of research and time goes into arriving at valuations.

And for numerous taxpayers challenging their own values, Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne issued a cautionary warning.

"It shows a couple things," he said of the ruling. "It shows a trend that yes, property values are coming down and it also shows these people, and we're getting a fair amount of people that are (challenging valuations)" might not be better off in court.

"Nobody likes to pay taxes but we're getting a fair amount of people challenging the taxes," Dearstyne said. "They should be sure of where they're going because what can happen is that the court can value the property higher than what the assessed value is and that's what happened in this particular instance for three years."

Arndt has 60 days to decide on an appeal. An attorney who represented himself in the case, Arndt said he can't offer taxpayers any suggestions based on his experience.

"At this point I don't think it's appropriate for me to make a comment since I'm a litigant," he said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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