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Court says Minnesota taxpayers owe Ford millions in plant refunds

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Minnesota taxpayers owe Ford Motor Co. about $4 million in refunds for tax payments made on its former St. Paul assembly plant from 2007 to 2011, according to a decision by a Minnesota Tax Court judge (pdf).

Ford, which closed the plant in December 2011 after it ceased production of its Ranger vehicle, sought this refund because Ramsey County had taxed the 122-acre site as a mixed-use development since 2007 even though it was zoned as industrial.

Ford argued it was being taxed based on its redevelopment potential, saying it should be reassessed at a lower rate. The court agreed, lowering the county's assessed value of a specific portion of the property. Other parcels owned by Ford were not included in the case, which could have increased the refund.

The refund is less than the full $10.6 million Ford had asked for. Ramsey County Assessor Stephen Baker told the Pioneer Press the court's decision is possibly the largest tax refund in the county's history.

Ford or Ramsey County could still appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court – neither party has said if they'll appeal, and if they don't, Ramsey County, the city of St. Paul and individual taxing jurisdictions would be responsible for the refund money, the Pioneer Press says.

Baker told the newspaper the state of Minnesota will likely have to pay one-third of the roughly $4 million rebate.

Ford has also filed petitions for tax payments from 2012 to 2014, which could amount to a larger refund for the motor company.

Ford moved to Highland Park in 1924, and finally shut down in December 2011. Demolition of the plant began in early 2013 and workers recently finished ripping down 2 million square feet of structures, leaving behind a massive collection of concrete slabs.

Last month, city officials announced what they envisioned for the site's future. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman calls the idea “a 21st-century community” that mixes housing, workplaces and recreational park space. Ford and the city have said they'll work collaboratively on the site's redevelopment.

But there are still a lot of steps before the idea can fully take shape, including assessing the amount of environmental cleanup needed at the site, zoning research, a “21st-century workforce” employment analysis for the site, an energy and sustainability study, transit/transportation planning and a new public outreach campaign, city officials say.

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