June 10, 2015

County commission fears losing courthouse expansion grant

By Daniel Arens

As the Mercer County Commission continues to debate solutions to the expensive courthouse and jail expansion project, there remain many other county issues to occupy the commissioners’ time and attention. At the meeting June 3, there was also the need for the county tax equalization meeting.
Several Mercer County residents attended the meeting, which was held during a recess from the regular county commission meeting as it was technically separate from the commission meeting. The majority of those attending were residents who own property along the shores of Lake Sakakawea, where exceptionally high sales have led to dramatic increases in both property values and property taxes along the lakeshore.
Gary Emter, Mercer County tax equalization director, spoke before these residents to answer questions and explain the increase. According to Emter, little could be done to stem the increases unless sellers could be convinced to lower the prices they are asking for their homes, which is unlikely. Also, if the county does nothing to make up for the discrepancy between property values and selling prices, the state will step in, which Emter said would undoubtedly provide a worse situation for landowners. The state would assess the value for all lake properties at a flat rate based on the median value estimated, and that value would be attributed across the board. The county is able to examine individual cases as they arise.
The residents said they understood the issue, but pointed out problems in how the tax money is utilized. Steve Hoetzer, Pick City, said a large part of his taxes go to the school system at Riverdale, which is not even part of Mercer County, and that the tax rate for the school is exorbitant. Emter agreed that this is a major concern for residents in the area.
Several property owners complained that roads are still not good in the area, and that they believe a higher proportion of property taxes paid should go toward fixing the roads. Emter replied that road issues are not an issue at a tax equalization meeting, and that residents who have issues with roads should schedule to have those concerns addressed at a regular county commission meeting.
Betty Jane Boeshans, city assessor for the communities of Zap, Stanton, and Pick City, said property values in Pick City need to be raised by 35 percent to bring them into compliance with state law. The city has agreed to raise values by 10 percent, but will not raise values higher than that. Boeshans requested the county commission approve the remaining 25 percent of the increase. The commission approved that request.

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