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Rep. Wes Belter, Published March 09 2013

Letter: Taxpayers come first with ‘local’

Property tax relief is a central focus of the legislative session, especially for the Republican majority. I appreciate The Forum’s recognition of the Republican majority’s delivery of property tax relief in the past, but I was concerned to read their stance on other property tax issues (editorial, March 7). According to The Forum, you as a local tax-paying resident should have no voice in local policy.

We agree the money we are sending back to local political subdivisions is not “Legislature’s money”; it belongs to the taxpayers, the residents. Since 2007 the state has sent back more than $786 million for property tax relief. Currently, the House Republican majority has already approved an additional $740 million for the next two years.

Many might ask, “If you have invested so heavily in property tax why are my taxes still increasing?” There exists a common belief that the Legislature controls property tax levels. In reality, property taxes are set at the local level; park districts, schools, fire and water, cities, counties, etc. Property tax dollars are raised and lowered at home. If the Legislature sends $1 in property tax relief, your local subdivision is not required, only encouraged, to lower your bill by $1.

The property tax bills passed by the House Republican majority are meant to relieve local property tax and to empower and to engage local participation. “Local control” should not be rooted in the belief that local officials have the final word. “Local control” rests in the hands of the residents, the taxpayers. In short, local control is you.

Our duty as legislators is not beholden to cities, counties and park boards, but rather to the people of North Dakota. Cities, park districts and all other subdivisions will have freedom to increase their budgets by 3 percent each year as they see fit. If more than 3 percent is required, they simply need to ask for the people’s approval. We are not asking any local government to seek House or Senate approval. We feel local governments need to ask you if they can raise your property taxes by more than 3 percent.

Is it really so horrible for the taxpayers to have an active voice? According to the tone of The Forum editorial, taxpayers being engaged in local property tax decisions is a travesty.

Rep. Belter, R-Fargo, represents District 22 in the N.D. House.