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Michael Montplaisir: Property taxes have gone down, not up

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Michael Montplaisir: Property taxes have gone down, not up
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

FARGO — Charlene Nelson wrote an interesting column about property taxes (“Task force’s ‘reformers’ want more money, not less,” Page F1, Jan. 12).

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If she had just taken the time to look at her own tax statement, she would have seen that at least one of the contentions she makes is absolutely false.

The statement she made was that “most people are paying double what they did just 10 years ago.” Not true. Not even close to true. Nelson’s own property tax is 30 percent less today than it was 10 years ago.

The taxes on my home, which has seen a substantial increase in value, still are 20 percent less than they were 10 years ago.

Even in West Fargo, where the local residents approved a large increase for a school building program and which has seen a larger growth in property values, the taxes generally are less than they were 10 years ago.

Herald readers shouldn’t take my word for it; I urge them to review their own property taxes and see if they are paying less today than they were 10 years ago. Unless they have had some unusual increases in valuations — for instance, if they built a new house, put on an addition or had an exemption removed — their taxes will be less than they were 10 years ago.

Nelson also pointed out that we sent notices last summer for non-payment of taxes. I didn’t count the number of notices, but using her figure of 194 letters, that is 194 out of 55,000 properties.

So, that is less than ½ of 1 percent of the properties.

Furthermore, most of these letters went to the same property owners our office notifies each year — to businesses and individuals who use the county for short-term financing of their property taxes.

Some better numbers to consider are these: Twelve properties eventually were foreclosed; seven of those subsequently were redeemed by the former owners before our tax sale; three were sold at auction; and two were sold to the cities in which they were located.

The one house sold at auction was an abandoned home in Fargo where the owner had moved out of town. The house had a mortgage, but the mortgage holder also did not pay the taxes.

This house sat abandoned for years with no house or yard maintenance, was full of mold, had been broken into and was generally a detriment to the neighborhood.

Once the county obtained the property (through the tax forfeiture process), we sold it at auction to the highest bidder. The contractor who bought the house has completely renovated the structure. So, something that was a detriment to the neighborhood now is basically a new home and a neighborhood asset; that seems like a good outcome to me.

Nelson is correct that are a lot of properties that are not taxed or are taxed at a lesser value than their market value. But I’m not sure where she gets her figure of 40 percent to 55 percent. According to the Fargo City Assessor’s Office, the total amount exempted in Fargo is 23 percent, and this includes properties of the local, state and federal governments as well as local exemptions such as renaissance zones and new home exemptions.

If Fargo’s total with the number of hospitals, the university, and the VA health care center is only 23 percent, where does Nelson get her figures?

Surely the smaller cities, without the big hospitals, university or VA facility are less than Fargo’s percentage.

The cities don’t take the granting of exemptions lightly. The city uses them as a strategic advantage in promoting growth, which eventually leads to spreading the property tax over a wider base.

Nelson has advocated for the elimination of property taxes completely — but those locally controlled taxes pay for services that residents want and need.

Montplaisir is county auditor for Cass County, N.D. 

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