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Property tax hikes a shocker for many

FARGO—Cass County property owners who recently got property tax estimates in the mail may have been shocked, as the loss of a North Dakota property tax buydown and factors such as area rising property valuations have boosted tax bills.

County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said the state Legislature ended a 12 percent property tax buydown this year, and replaced it with a two-year program in which the state takes over funding of social services. Social services made up 3.5 percent of the county's budget, he said.

That saved legislators money as they worked to balance the state's budget, but left Cass County taxpayers with an 8.5 percent difference to make up.

"The good thing is, the funding of the social services is intended to be a permanent thing," Montplaisir said.

Property owners who had property valuations readjusted, homeowners who had new construction or veterans tax exemptions expire, or areas where residents approved tax increases, such as for school construction, got added jolts on the tax estimates, Montplaisir said.

For example, in Casselton, in addition to the 8.5 percent countywide property tax increase, many residents saw property values rise 5 to 6 percent, plus the school district raised taxes for construction, Montplaisir said.

"So most of those (property tax increases) were in the 25 percent range, which is hefty," he said.

Despite that, Montplaisir said he's gotten relatively few calls and emails on the issue—perhaps 15, so far.

A number of meetings are planned in the metro area and throughout the county in coming weeks as cities, school districts and park districts finalize their mill levies and budgets. Those meetings start Monday and run through Oct. 2. But Montplaisir said all that taxpayers can do at the scheduled meetings is encourage the boards and commissions to cut or hold the line on their budgets.

Protests about individual property valuations must be made in April or May, when those public meetings are held by the cities which do the property assessments, or with the county board of commissioners in June, he said.

Charlene Nelson, a taxpayer activist, helped put Measure 2 on the ballot to end property taxes in North Dakota, but it failed.

Nelson told WDAY talk radio host Jay Thomas on Tuesday, Sept. 5, that rising property tax estimates are "what happens when voters tell their elected officials they are OK with taxes. Then they push the taxes up."

Nelson said she believes the appeals process for property valuations is too subjective.

"OK, you get this horrible bill. OK, go protest it, and maybe we'll lower it for you," Nelson said. "Your bill is completely at the whim of elected officials ... You have no control over this at all. None."

She told Thomas that her group would take another shot at ending the property tax statewide—if they see support. That will depend on attendance at upcoming local government budget meetings and interaction on the "Empower the Taxpayer" page on Facebook.

"It cannot be in the hands of a dozen or two dozen people; it has to be in the hands of thousands of people in this state. And unless thousands are willing to step up and make this happen, then you just better get out your checkbook and write the check," Nelson said.

Upcoming tax hearings

Cass County, 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Cass County Courthouse, 211 9th St. S.

City of Fargo, 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, in the city commission chambers, 200 3rd St. N.

Fargo Park District, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, Park District boardroom, 701 Main Ave.

Fargo School District, 6 p.m. Sept. 26, in the central office boardroom, 415 4th St. N.

City of West Fargo, 6 p.m. Sept. 18, commission chambers, 800 4th Ave. E.

West Fargo Park District, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, Rustad Recreation Center, 601 26th Ave. E.

West Fargo School District, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, boardroom, Leidal Education Center, 207 Main Ave W.

City of Casselton, 7 p.m. Sept. 18, City Hall, 702 1st St. N.

Casselton Park District, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, Cottonwood Golf Course Clubhouse, 302 6th Ave. S.

Central Cass School District, 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, Casselton school media center, 802 5th St. N.

City of Mapleton, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, City Hall, 651 2nd St.

Mapleton Park District, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20, Community Center, 651 2nd St.

Mapleton School District, 5:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, Mapleton Elementary School, 300 1st St.

City of Horace, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, City Hall, 215 Park Drive. E.

City of Harwood, 7 p.m. Oct. 2, City Hall, 108 Main St.

City of Arthur, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, City office.

City of Reiles Acres, 7 p.m. Sept. 19, Community Center, 4635 35th Ave. N.

City of Oxbow, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20, Oxbow Country Club

Northern Cass School District, 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, Northern Cass School, 16021 18th St. S.E., Hunter

Kindred School District, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, Kindred High School, 255 Dakota St.

Maple Valley School District, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, Maple Valley High School music room, 207 Broadway St., Tower City.

Page School District, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, Page Elementary School, 630 May Ave.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

(701) 241-5583
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