Nelson Column: Enjoy Your Property Tax Relief North Dakota, It Won't Last

Like a good magician, Cass County Auditor Mike Monplaisir’s recent editorial on North Dakota property tax is nothing but slight of hand. He hopes to distract readers from the real issue–that property taxes have been out of control for the last ten years and people are losing their homes because of it–by pointing out that my taxes were reduced this year.

There are two problems with Montplaisir ‘s editorial: first, when I wrote the column in mid-December, I did not have access to numbers for 2013 taxes. Second, the numbers I used were for statewide numbers, not Cass County’s numbers nor my personal taxes. According to the tax commissioner property taxes have increased an average of 7% each year, meaning they’ve more than doubled in ten years.

In 2012 farmers statewide saw an average 30% increase in valuation. That’s a 30% jump in taxes for farmers in just one year alone. Farmland comprises the bulk of property taxes statewide. When news of this increase came in the midst of our campaign for M2, county commissioners around the state assured farmers not to worry, that their bill would not increase unless they left the mills alone, implying they would all respond to the valuation increase by lowering mills. We have not found a single county that lowered their mills. And, indeed, many can’t because there is a floor, a minimum mills they must budget, mostly for social services (which Say Anything Blog has already reported is increasing far faster than we would expect, considering our state’s low unemployement.)

Yes, my taxes went down 30% with this last statement, after more than doubling in the 16 yrs previous to that. It’s disingenuous to compare my taxes to what’s happening around the state. And for those that think this 30% reduction really means anything, compare your bills between 2010-2013. Those are the four years of the first two buydowns. If you’re like me, your taxes went up those years, not down, despite the hundreds of millions the state spent for “relief.” Recent tax history proves that the buydowns are nothing but a blank check to local governments to spend more. Enjoy your lower bill this year. It won’t take long for your local spenders to eat it all up and be back on the road to doubling your taxes once again.

Also, when we look at the 30% reduction in my bill, keep in mind that the property tax relief cost $850 million. Remember that the anti-M2 people said it would cost $800 million to replace PT. So that $850 million relief should have reduced our taxes by 50%. At the GOP District meetings this spring, Majority Leader Al Carlson said everyone would get a 48% reduction. But most people around the state will see less than 25% reduction in their taxes. So if your tax bill didn’t get cut in half, you got robbed, shafted by the shell game.

As for exemptions, Fargo is, indeed, below the state average. Well below. I was told by a member of the West Fargo Equalization Board that the exemptions in WF are more than 45% of the properties. In Valley City more than 50% are exempt.

Montplaisir is comparing apples to oranges–Cass County taxes to the state averages, my taxes to everyone else’s, Fargo exemptions to all other municipalities, my personal reduction to what everyone else is getting–and hopes you won’t notice.

This has never been about my tax bill. Compared to the rest of the state, my taxes aren’t so bad. But I’m fighting for everyone else, my friends and fellow-citizens who are sinking in a quicksand of taxes. And I’m fighting for my children, who I hope will be able to buy a home and raise their families here.

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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