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Griggs County, three months late on property sales report, in hot water with ND tax commissioner

COOPERSTOWN, N.D.—Griggs County in east-central North Dakota hopes to resolve a months-long dispute with North Dakota in what a senior official says is a highly rare disregard for state law.

Grigg's County's annual "sales ratio study," which summarizes recent property sales, was due to the state March 31. State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said counties will, at times, miss the deadline—whether because of simple staff oversight or because an official is new to overseeing the process.

But Rauschenberger said this is different.

"We have been working with them for months to try to get them to submit something to us. Our state supervisor of assessments ... has been out to their commission meetings in the past to try to get them to at least work with the state, submit, and make sure they're at least equalizing property," Rauschenberger said. "They have not done that.

"This is a commission acting as their own tax director and ultimately refusing to comply with state law," he continued. "I've listened to hours of their audio from their commission meetings, and it's very clear to me that they, to this point, have been refusing to comply."

Rauschenberger said the data helps ensure property valuations—and thus property tax bills—are fair throughout the state. The study is essentially a justifying document for how local values are set, examining sales of similar properties in different places to ensure a single, fair standard is used throughout a county. When forwarded to the state, it's used to ensure the comparisons and fair standards are in place around North Dakota.

Griggs County's non-compliance, Rauschenberger said, is highly unusual. It is the first time his office has called a hearing to address such a matter in the more than 50 years it has had the power to do so.

Troy Olson, chairman of the Griggs County Board of Commissioners, said the county resolved to submit a study at a meeting Friday. He said that meeting came the same day as a hearing Rauschenberger called in Cooperstown, where state and local officials discussed the matter at length.

Olson said the county has previously been reluctant to submit its data to the state, suspecting the county recorder's data may not accurately reflect land sale prices. For example, Olson said, what if a land price also includes another item included in the sale, such as a pontoon boat?

"We have been unable to hire a tax director," Olson added. "We've been advertising—we've actually hired a couple. It's kind of been overwhelming, and they've decided they didn't want to go through all the education that it takes to do it."

Kelly Vincent, Griggs County recorder, said she felt "very railroaded" at Friday's hearing and at the suggestion that she might not be doing her job correctly.

"(The County Board) has taken on the role of tax director, and since they're not trained and not fully aware of the duties, they're looking for someone else to maybe throw those duties upon," she said.

Olson said that, as a result of the discussion at the meeting, the group is looking to move ahead and submit a sales report with the data it has.

"That was a central question in the (hearing) on Friday, was who does what," Olson said. "The county commissioners are responsible for the tax director's duties. The tax director serves at the pleasure of the county commissioner. In the absence of the tax director, somebody needs to do this. So we're going to provide the report to the tax department."

Olson said he hopes to see the report sent to the state before the end of the month.

Rauschenberger said that his office, until it gets data, will continue to weigh next steps based on Griggs County's tardiness. That means weighing possible "court action" in the next several weeks, or addressing the issue somehow at the August meeting of the state Board of Equalization.

"That doesn't change anything we're doing," Rauschenberger said. "Until we see full compliance with them, we're not changing course."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

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