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Erik Burgess, Published February 09 2014

A taxing delay: Software trouble stalls discounted Cass tax bills

FARGO - Kathryn Estee had sticker shock when she received her tax statement in December.

Estee, 62, had surgery a year ago for stage 4 brain cancer and is on a fixed income. She applied for the county’s homestead tax credit, which gives property tax cuts to low-income elderly or disabled people.

The south Fargo resident was told she qualified for a 40 percent discount on taxable value, dropping her bill from $1,411 to $921, but when Estee got her statement, it was for the full amount.

She called the county several times over the next couple of months. She said last week she was recently told to pay the full amount and that she would receive a rebate later.

“I’m in cancer treatment for stage 4 cancer, so if they were telling me the rebate was going to be six months down the road, I may not be here,” she said. “So it gets more emotional.”

Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir said the county is using new tax software, which had issues recalculating statements for those who qualified for credits. Hundreds of new statements, like Estee’s, were held up because of the glitch, he said.

But Montplaisir said residents weren’t mandated to pay the whole amount. They were given that option and told they could wait for the new bill to arrive.

The software started working properly last week and anyone with a recalculated or discounted statement should be getting it soon, he said.

Montplaisir said Estee’s should arrive today.

The Legislature last session raised the maximum income threshold for someone to apply for the credit, Montplaisir said.

“So a lot more people qualify this year than in the past, so there’s a lot more of them (applying),” he said.

Montplaisir said it caused some lag in his office. About 400 people applied for the credit last year. There are about 700 applicants this year and more coming in still, he said.

Estee said this was her first year applying.

To qualify for the homestead tax credit, applicants must be 65 years old or older in the year for which they apply, or they must be permanently and

totally disabled.

Tax reductions then vary based on the total household income.

A household making between $38,001 and $42,000 can apply for a

10 percent reduction in property taxes, up to $450. Someone making $0 to $22,000 can apply for a

100 percent reduction, up to $4,500.

For a husband and wife living together, only one may apply for the credit.

People may not apply for the credit if the total value of their assets, including the value of their home, is more than $500,000, Montplaisir said.

Taxes are due in full by Feb. 18, with an early-pay discount for those paying by Feb. 17, but Montplaisir said anyone receiving a recalculated statement will still get the discount if they pay before March 3.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518