by Sarah Squires
Market values and the tax base for the city of Winona are up about three percent over last year, and that is good news for this region, with relatively stable values when compared to regions across the state.
But for the city of Winona, the three percent increase is not a reflection of new homes, which remained stagnant for 2009 assessments. Rather, the increase is a result of smaller existing home improvements and a handful of new construction projects completed before 2009, now on the tax rolls for 2010.
Winona County Assessor Steve Hacken said that part of the reason the area is doing well for home and other values is because it didn’t fall prey to the lure of a huge boom in new housing over the last five or so years. Other areas, like Wright County west of the Twin Cities, said Hacken, are seeing huge vacancies, hundreds of empty spec houses and major declines in values.
It's like the tortoise and the hare, he said, and this time, slow and steady really did win the race. While the Winona area remained fairly level in values and new development, other areas of the state experienced huge increases but now, huge declines, said Hacken. “It’s hard to do business that way.”
New construction value increased over the last year by over $5 million to about $18.4 million total, mostly attributed to smaller home improvement projects and two larger commercial developments completed in 2008 — a $4 million hotel complex and a $1 million veterinary clinic.
While new construction drew an increase, this year’s figures are still on the low end for the decade. New construction hit a peak in 2006 (taxable in 2006) with over $30 million in new projects, which decreased dramatically in 2009 to just over $13 million.
Both the market values and tax capacities for apartment buildings in the city increased nearly 10 percent over last year. Hacken said there were several apartment sales for high prices which helped draw up assessments, and he said that apartment rents are becoming more expensive, which also increases values. A six-block radius around Winona State University in particular, he said, has seen increases in rent prices and values.
Foreclosures: mostly low-end homes
Hacken said that in looking at the assessed values of foreclosed homes in Winona, it’s become clear that most of them are on the lower end of the spectrum. Most, he said, are valued at about half of the average market values for the area, meaning that most of the foreclosed homes in Winona are below $90,000 in assessed value.
Many of these lower-end foreclosed homes may end up selling for much less than their assessed values, too, said Hacken. All homes for sale in that price range will have to compete with the cheaper, foreclosed properties. Thus, homes valued within that range — less than $90,000 — are selling for less, even when they aren’t foreclosed properties, and that trend is likely to continue, he said.
Winona Mayor Jerry Miller asked that council members begin preparing for the process to replace City Manager Eric Sorensen, who has announced he’ll retire at the start of 2011.
Miller asked council members to prepare a list of qualifications they’d like to see in a new manager — who oversees all city departments and operations, as well as the city’s budget. Members of the public who have ideas for such qualities, he said, may contact him or a council member to have their ideas included on the list.
At the end of the month, Miller said he’d like to have a meeting with the full council to go over that list, as well as to begin outlining a process to find a replacement for Sorensen.