Damage to public infrastructure from heavy flooding nearly two weeks ago in northeast Minnesota has been estimated at about $108 million. But private property owners have also taken a hit, and counties are now assessing the damage and what it might mean for property tax revenue.
In Carlton County, just southwest of Duluth, Mark Peterson, of Cass County, and Traci Balder, who works for Benton County, are among assessors from around the state who have fanned out around the flood zone to try and gain a better understanding of the damage caused by the high water. They've been going door to door through a neighborhood in Esko, armed with clipboards.
At one property, the only sign of life is a barking dog.
"I'm just checking down that no body's home. And just from looking at the exterior there's no visible sign of any damage on the outside of the house so I'm putting that down," Peterson says. "Now we're on to the next place."
N.E. Minnesota Floods
• Floodwaters recede, more damage revealed
• Shocked Duluth tries returning to normal
• Road repairs could takes to complete
• Photos: Duluth, northeast Minnesota awash
• Photos: Gooseberry Falls at full trottle
• Photos: The wake of the flood
• Photos: Sandbagging in Moose Lake
The totals from each county will be complied and submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the hope of getting some disaster relief. Most of the homes and businesses affected don't have flood insurance. That's adding to an already expensive problem lawmakers will have to deal with. Gov. Mark Dayton says a special session of the legislature later this summer will try to address the costs and other issues associated with the flooding.
Back in Esko, the assessing duo meets Diana Adams, who says the basement where she lives was filled up with water.
"Well, the basements cleaned out right now, but we had water probably from the top steps. It was 8 feet," she says. "Maybe three inches more and it would've been in the kitchen."
After a tour of the property, examining the basement, asking some questions about the water heater and the furnace - Adams uses a wood stove for heat, she says -- and taking a look at the foundation of the house, Peterson and Balder determine the level of damage using guidelines from FEMA and the county.
"We probably have somewhere between minor and major damage. But I'm thinking we're probably at about, since it didn't get to the second floor, we're probably looking at minor damage in the 30-percent range," Peterson says.
That means the house could lose 30-percent of its value after the assessment, and the property taxes could go down this year. Over time, county revenues will improve as flood damaged properties are repaired and reassessed.
Carlton County Assessor Marci Moreland says that there's about $9 million in damage to private property around the county so far. But that's a preliminary number and doesn't include rural areas. And there are still some 600 homes with damage in cities and towns that still need to be assessed.
Gov. Dayton has asked the federal government to deem the region a disaster area. Moreland says if that happens, the county qualifies for property tax relief.
"We collect all that data, we submit it to the Department of Revenue on a form. Then the state of Minnesota refunds the county back the amount of that property tax relief amount that we had to pay out."
In other words, the county won't lose money, because the state will pay it back.
Jason Nord is the state program administrator director with the Minnesota Department of Revenue. He says that money will come out of the general fund.
"It just becomes another variable in state budgeting. If it happens to be an extraordinary disaster that creates a large liability than that's just something that the state budgeting process has to recognize and adjust to," Nord says.
Meanwhile, it could be weeks or even months before the agency has all the data it needs from the counties, Nord says. At least in Carlton County, assessments should be wrapped up by the end of the week.