North Dakota Board of Equalization upholds Griggs County valuations
A fired Griggs County assessor's work is backed by the state board. Meanwhile, Griggs County Commissioner John Wakefield isn't happy with the decision, saying the county is doing fine without the higher tax valuations. “I think it’s disgusting,” Wakefield said.
The North Dakota Board of Equalization has voted to uphold the property tax assessments of fired Griggs County Tax Equalization Director David Lunde.
Lunde was fired last month after the majority of Griggs County commissioners said he wasn’t listening to their directions or following their policies. The commissioners were upset that Lunde valuated property at levels higher than they believed it should be valuated.
Ryan Rauschenberger, the secretary of the State Board of Equalization, told the Herald after Wednesday's meeting that Lunde had appropriately performed his duties as equalization director.
“We believe that – after our investigation and site visits out to Griggs County – he was doing his job and doing it very well,” Rauschenberger said.
After they fired Lunde last month, the commissioners then appealed Lunde’s valuations to the state board, which in turn investigated the appeals. The state board, made up of Gov. Doug Burgum; Rauschenberger, the state tax commissioner; Joshua Gallion, state auditor; Doug Goehring, state agriculture commissioner; and Kelly Schmidt, state treasurer, met Wednesday in Bismarck to review appeals from Griggs County and other locally assessed property in counties and cities across North Dakota.
The state board – minus Goehring, who wasn’t at the meeting, and with Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford sitting in for Burgum – voted to accept the recommendations of its investigators. The investigators, who spot-checked Lunde’s valuations, concurred with all of his assessments.
Linda Leadbetter, state supervisor of assessments, spoke during Wednesday's meeting. She detailed the sequence of Griggs County Commission meetings held after Lunde and other local assessors valuated township and city property.
During a June 7 commission meeting, which was audio recorded, a county commissioner said “these giant changes made, if approved by the board, would unequalize them (taxes), not equalize them,” Leadbetter said.
When the county board reconvened a week later, Lunde provided members with six options and all of them were rejected, Leadbetter noted to the state board.
Rauschenberger told the Herald that the Griggs County Commission’s appeal of Lunde’s property tax valuations was unusual.
“That’s the tax director’s job, to assess, and reassess and make sure the assessments are accurate. To have the county board reject all of the recommendations is unique,” Rauschenberger said.
After the meeting, Lunde told the Herald he is happy with the recommendations of the state board.
“I’m pleased with the outcome. It’s in line with what I’ve been saying all along,” he said.
He plans to continue his work as a local assessor for six Griggs County townships and will be available to assist other local assessors with their valuations. Ten Griggs County townships and two cities in the county need to be assessed in 2020, the state tax equalization board recommended Wednesday.
Griggs County Commissioner John Wakefield expressed disappointment in the state board's rejection of the appeal.
“It drastically raises the property taxes and I’m against that,” Wakefield said. “It’s not unusual the state would be in favor of higher property taxes, but that doesn’t mean, me, as a Griggs County commissioner, should sign on to it.
“Griggs County wasn’t in need of any more money. We were doing just fine. Increases in valuations always mean an increase in taxes. I wholeheartedly disagree with what the state has done, and I think they should be ashamed of themselves for injecting themselves into the property tax levy process.
“I think it’s disgusting,” Wakefield said.
But higher valuations don’t mean lower or higher property taxes, Rauschenberger said.
“Our job is to make sure the property value is equalized,” he said. “We felt the former tax director was doing a great job.”