Cass County Auditor Misleads On Property Taxes


To hear Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir tell it in a letter to the Fargo Forum today, citizens of his county have nothing to complain about when it comes to property taxes.

To make his case, he cites his own property tax record as well as that of outspoken property tax opponent Charlene Nelson. “Nelson’s own property tax is 30 percent less today than it was 10 years ago,” he writes. “The taxes on my home, which has seen an increase in value, are still 20 percent less than they were 10 years ago.”

According to Montplaisir, “Unless you have had unusual increases in valuations – for instance, if you built a new house, put on an addition or had an exemption removed – your taxes will be less than they were 10 years ago.”

The key word in that comment might be “unusual increases in valuations.” Because neither Montplaisir nor Nelson has seen an increase in their land valuations at least since 2009. That’s pretty unusual, because the gripe most in North Dakota have about their property taxes is that even when mill levies are lowered, valuation increases offset any tax savings.

I won’t link to either person’s property tax records as their home addresses are listed (you can look them up yourself if you’re inclined), but here’s Montplaisir’s valuation history:

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Here is Nelson’s:

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I wonder how many North Dakotans have enjoyed zero valuation increases in the last five years? Not many, which is why Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, called on local leaders to stop letting spiraling property values lead to automatic property tax increases.

“These local government officials have the choice of passing the state-funded tax relief on to their taxpayers or letting rising values and increased spending consume part or all of the state-funded property tax relief,” wrote Nathe in a letter sent out to media outlets in the state back in July. “Taxpayers and voters must hold their local elected officials accountable for how this tax relief is managed.”

In order to make his case that all is well with property taxes, Montplaisir picked cherry-picked to property tax records that aren’t in the norm. Or, if they’re the norm for the Fargo area, certainly aren’t the norm statewide which is where the property tax debate is taking place.

Though property tax bills are absolutely going down in terms of dollars for a lot of North Dakotans, but not necessarily tax burdens. I had lunch with a state legislator earlier this week who expressed concern about the sustainability of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s property tax buy-down passed during the legislative session last year.

That buy down has the state accumulating roughly $660 million in local school spending to the state level, and obligating the state to future buy-downs every biennium. That spending isn’t disappearing. Taxpayers are just footing the bill in a different way.

In the short term, with state coffers filled to bursting with revenues, that may look like property tax relief. Long term, in a future when revenues aren’t quite so generous, it may start to look like tax burden again.