Reducing our tax burden

Rep. Scott Louser, District 5, Minot

Property taxes are consistently on the mind of many citizens. The state legislature debated the issue until nearly 4:30 a.m. on the 80th and final day of the session this past April in an attempt to provide substantive relief to the taxpayers of North Dakota.

The facts are the state does not assess property values, apply the mill levies, collect the taxes due or spend the money received. All of the above are functions of the local government budgeting process. The state is now participating in a per pupil payment to the school districts as well as buy downs to other political subdivisions, in an amount approaching nearly $900 million in relief, all in a new effort to reduce the tax burden to the property owner. The question really becomes this: In spending all of those state tax dollars with the intent of reducing the property tax burden, will the taxpayer see the relief?

Now is a crucial time in the Minot area. The city council will be debating the budget proposal for the upcoming year. We are dealing with unprecedented growth in population and energy impacts from the oil industry. We have record property valuations and we are experiencing building permit numbers only rivaled by the year 2012. Supply of housing is quickly catching up with demand and we’re seeing substantial growth in commercial and retail development. Property tax revenue collection is at an all-time high.

There is no doubt Minot continues to deal with the devastating impacts of the flood from 2011. We are looking at building schools to replace and expand our offerings and the city is considering increases to recreational opportunities in our community. This is where the frustration lies within the legislature’s participation in property taxes; are we providing ‘relief’ or are we simply providing a reduction in the increase? More and more, it seems the latter.

If taxpayers truly want relief, then it seems substantve reform is necessary. One idea I proposed during the session was a move from an assessment and levy system to a fee for service or flat tax system. The basic concept needs study, but considers all property tax payers have equal access to similar services in the community regardless of the unrealized value of the property they own. This is a reform proposal that I intend to continue to research in much more detail.

The Minot city council will be considering the 2014 budget in September. If property taxation is an issue, citizens should contact their alderman and voice their concerns. Short of citizen participation, we can all expect the “relief” provided by the state will not be realized by the taxpayer to which it was intended.