Combined property assessment plan proposed for Duluth and St. Louis County

The city of Duluth would dissolve most of its property assessment department and hand those duties over to St. Louis County under a proposal announced Tuesday.

Property assesment plan proposed
The City of Duluth and St. Louis County are looking at a proposed plan to combine property assessment under one roof. (File / News Tribune)

The city of Duluth would dissolve most of its property assessment department and hand those duties over to St. Louis County under a proposal announced Tuesday.

City and county officials gathered for a hastily called news conference to say they are working on the plan and hope to have a formal memorandum of understanding to start the transition by year's end.

The move is intended to eventually save taxpayers money, avoid duplication and to streamline services, but also to bring more of the county under the same assessment practices and principles.

Few details have been worked out, but the concept would be to have six of the city's nine assessment personnel transfer to the county's assessment department. The others would remain to handle special assessments and other duties unique to city property value, said Dave Montgomery, the city's chief administrative officer.

City and county officials say they hope to have the change worked into their 2013 budgets now being figured. They said 2013 will be a transition year with the move completed by 2014, "but there's still a lot of details to work out," said Kevin Gray, St. Louis County administrator, including negotiations with unions representing the assessors.


Duluth residents are effectively paying twice for assessments now -- their share of the county assessment department through county property taxes and also for the city's assessment department through city property taxes.

Mayor Don Ness and St. Louis County Board Chairman Keith Nelson both praised the effort Tuesday as another example of joint city-county efforts to save money, such as joining the Sheriff's Office and Police Department headquarters.

Property assessors determine the value of property to figure what the owner of each parcel will pay in property taxes. Having accurate and consistent assessments is considered critical to making sure property owners are paying their fair share.

Duluth has been criticized by state officials in recent years for failing to assess commercial and industrial property in a timely manner, meaning those owners may be paying too much or too little and that other property owners across the county must make up the difference.

Having Duluth assessments conducted by the county was one of several major recommendations of a county blue-ribbon panel that met over eight months before releasing a report in February. The panel agreed there is too much variation in how property value is assessed across the giant county, with a confusing mix of private, township, city and county assessors.

While all operate under the same state laws and guidelines, it's become clear in recent years that there is broad variation in how those are interpreted and enforced. In some high-profile cases, some local assessors for the county were missing entire properties -- a problem that county officials say is unacceptable if taxpayers are going to have confidence in their government's tax fairness.

The blue-ribbon panel said the county should work toward a single system, operated by the county assessment department, to determine all property value in the county, eventually eliminating other local assessment offices.

If the Duluth-St. Louis County plan happens, it would be a first but major move toward a single county-operated assessment system, said Mark Monacelli, the county's director of public records and property valuation.


"Duluth is just part of the puzzle," Monacelli said, "but it is a very big part."

The final agreement would still need to be approved by the County Board and City Council.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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