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Rep. Mike Nathe, Published January 06 2014

Letter: Not all local ND governments have passed along tax cuts

North Dakota property owners got some good news in the mail recently when they received their property tax statements showing a sizable reduction in their tax bill.

All one has to do is take a look and you will quickly realize that almost all the relief came through increased education funding passed during this past legislative session. It is only logical that the state use school funding to provide a majority of state-funded property tax relief. The state has a constitutional obligation to fund adequate and equitable education for all children. With the changes in our state’s funding formula, the state now funds an average of 80 percent of all K-12 education costs.

As was our intention, a majority of school districts have passed along most of the increase in state school funding to property owners in the form of tax relief. For example, as a result of the new education funding, Bismarck cut its property taxes 19 percent, Fargo 25 percent, Minot 25 percent, Linton 26 percent, Oakes 26 percent, Stanley 26 percent and Harvey cut 24 percent, just to name a few. I applaud the school districts that provided significant tax relief to their property owners for doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for many of the city, county and park districts in North Dakota. Over the past four years, the state has sent property tax relief funding to local governments only to see many of these local governments use state-funded tax relief funding to increase local spending instead of providing tax relief.

In 2013, the state funded an additional 12 percent property tax reduction for cities, counties and park districts on top of the new education funding. Unfortunately, again many city, county and park governments used the 12 percent intended for tax relief to fund increased spending. Don’t take my word for it; all you have to do is look on your property tax statement and you will see what I am talking about.

As a legislator, this outcome is frustrating to see.

So what is the solution? North Dakotans need to be vigilant of what local governments are doing. If voters are not happy with how these local governments manage budgeting, spending, taxing and state-funded tax relief, they need to stand up and hold these local elected officials accountable. The good news is that we are beginning to see voters actively engage their local elected officials with good results.

The Legislature will continue to work on reforming the property tax system, but true property tax reform starts where it’s levied, collected and spent, and that is the responsibility of local city, county, school and park governments.

Nathe, R-Bismarck, represents District 30 in the North Dakota House. He is chairman of the Education Committee