Appraiser’s work for St. Louis County under scrutinyNEWS TRIBUNE INVESTIGATION: Independent real-estate appraiser Jan Jackson says the county is trying to profit from the 25 townships she’s responsible for.
Jan Jackson and her family are responsible for assessing more townships than any other appraisers in St. Louis County; Jackson was recently on a blue-ribbon panel charged with seeking solutions to assessment problems in the county.
She’s also under investigation by the State Department of Revenue, the News Tribune has learned.
On Sunday, the News Tribune reported that construction projects and properties valued at more than $16 million went for nine years without being put on the county tax rolls, though the majority of those problems involved an assessor other than Jackson.
Jackson’s work came under scrutiny when the state of Minnesota in 2011 ordered St. Louis County to reassess one of her townships after finding that it was significantly undervalued — meaning residents of Solway Township paid less in property taxes than they should have, but the rest of the county paid more.
Mark Monacelli, who oversees the assessment process in the county, said the state launched an investigation after the county discovered 51 parcels with a total market value of $4.197 million that were not on the tax rolls. He declined to say whether Jackson was the subject of the state investigation.
Jackson, who appraises parcels with her husband and two adult children, told the News Tribune that she has been questioned by investigators and believes she has done nothing wrong and is being unfairly targeted by St. Louis County.
“We did have a list (of questioned properties), and most of them were unwarranted,” she said. “Someone sat in an office and looked at aerial photos and decided that we had missed buildings, which were nothing but a travel trailer that had been junked with no windows in it. That was what they called missed construction.”
Neither the county nor the state would share with the News Tribune records of the parcels under investigation. However, the county, responding to an open records request, did provide records of some of Jackson’s audits. Those showed new and existing properties that weren’t being taxed or were improperly classified.
Jackson said she believes the blue-ribbon panel she sits on was set up to justify moving toward having the county perform all assessments, including those in Duluth.
In early February, the panel recommended doing just that; Jackson and three others on the panel supported keeping the current system and making minor changes.
“The county wants to get rid of local assessors,” Jackson said, “and they’re going to do whatever it takes to do it. And they’re being extremely nitpicky, and they’re doing it with me, and they’re not doing it with any of the other local assessors. They basically want my townships. I have 25 of them, and they want them for what they call their income. And they’re going to have to hire people to do the work.”
Rick Puhek, the president of the group that represents Jackson and other local assessors, the Assessors of Minnesota Cities and Townships, said he didn’t know enough about the investigation of Jackson to comment on it. But he did criticize the county’s presentations to the blue-ribbon panel, of which he was also a member. The panel should have examined assessments in St. Louis County in the context of what is done elsewhere in the state, he said.
“If you’re doing a best-practice study, every situation should be considered,” Puhek said.
Monacelli said that while he couldn’t comment on Jackson’s case, the ultimate goal for the county should be to have an assessment system that ensures all new construction projects are put on the tax rolls.
“I just cannot accept when you have permitted property not being put on the tax rolls,” Monacelli said.