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Michael Montplaisir, Published February 01 2014

Letter: Tax critic’s own taxes down 30%

Charlene Nelson of Casselton, N.D., wrote an interesting commentary on property taxes in the Jan. 23 Forum. If she had taken time to look at her own tax statement, she would have seen that at least one of the contentions she makes is false.

She said, “most people are paying double what they did just 10 years ago.” Note 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 an increase in value, are still 20 percent less than they were 10 years ago.

Don’t take my word for it – review your property taxes and see if you are paying less today than you were 10 years ago. Unless you have had unusual increases in valuations – for instance, if you built a new house, put on an addition or had an exemption removed – your taxes will be less than they were 10 years ago.

Nelson pointed out that we sent notices last summer for non-payment of taxes. Using her figure of 194 letters, that is 194 out of 55,000 properties, so that is about less than half of 1 percent of the properties. 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.

Better numbers to consider are 12 properties were foreclosed; seven of those were redeemed by the former owners prior to 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 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 maintenance, was full of mold, had been broken into and was a detriment to the neighborhood. Once the county obtained the property, through tax forfeiture process, we sold it at auction. The contractor who purchased the house has renovated the structure. Something that was a detriment to the neighborhood is now basically a new home and an asset to the neighborhood – seems like a good outcome.

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

Cities don’t take the granting of exemptions lightly. A 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 but those locally controlled taxes pay for services we want and need.

Montplaisir is Cass County auditor.