Legislature Shouldn't Have To Mandate Transparency On Property Tax Hikes

property tax

During their 2013 session state lawmakers pass a bill requiring that property owners be notified of impending increases in their property taxes.

Their intent was clear. They wanted local governments to be up front and transparent with property owners about what was happening with their tax levels. But as evidence of how much of a problem transparency with property taxes really is, the local governments found themselves a loophole to the law.

The way the 2013 law was worded a property owner need only be notified of an impending tax hike if only their property, specifically, was being targeted for the hike. If taxes are being raised on a broad category of properties – say, all residential property, for instance – then no notifications were required.

So during their 2015 session earlier this year lawmakers fixed the loophole. “One of eight new laws taking effect Friday in North Dakota will close a loophole that kept property owners from receiving notice of significant property tax increases in certain cases,” reports Mike Nowatzki.

It’s good that lawmakers closed the loophole, but the fact that lawmakers had to close the loophole to ensure timely notice to property owners of impending tax increases speaks to a larger problem with our local governments in this state.

It’s good that lawmakers closed the loophole, but the fact that lawmakers had to close the loophole to ensure timely notice to property owners of impending tax increases speaks to a larger problem with our local governments in this state.

They are utterly hostile to the notion of transparency.

It’s not just the area of transparency property taxes where this is true. North Dakota’s local governments have consistently focused significant lobbying efforts on defeating bills for spending transparency as well.

During the 2013 session, after a fierce lobbying effort from the League of Cities and the Association of Counties, a bill requiring that local governments put their spending online was defeated (it was introduced by Fargo Rep. Blair Thoreson who is now, ironically, being attacked by Democrats for being against government transparency).

The 2015 legislative session saw passage of a resolution calling for a study into local government transparency, though it’s hard to say if that will go anywhere.

But, again, the legislature shouldn’t have to fight local governments on this sort of thing. One would hope that local governments would be eager to help citizens understand local tax and spending policy.

That our local government leadership – with some exceptions – are largely hostile to that transparency is a problem voters ought to consider fixing.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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