June 25, 2009

County tax equalization board gives direction for city boards

By Brenda L. Shelkey

Since the legislature’s mandate for tax equalization, McLean County residents have responded with a rollercoaster of reactions to the assessment process. Over the last two years, the process has worked out some of the kinks. However, at the June 22 county commission meeting, commissioners decided to take some steps to address issues that continue to recur. Once taxpayers realized their increased taxes had less to do with the property assessment and more to do with the 2007 legislative mandate, things settled down somewhat this year. The mandate required schools to up their mill levy to cover a larger proportion of education costs. With the uproar about those higher taxes, coupled with the large surplus that followed, the 2009 legislature eased up on the tax load for North Dakotans by funding more of the education costs. However, they continue to require that the assessment of all properties be equalized within 95 percent for tax purposes. The McLean County Board of Equalization met at 11 a.m. Monday to hear the concerns of citizens who did not get the response they expected from the local boards of equalization. A small handful of individuals, a change from previous county tax equalization meetings, met with commissioners and Equalization Director Lauren Hunze. After hearing from Louis Mane, Garrison, concerning the assessment of his property by Vanguard, commissioners realized that some of the issues Mane was presenting should have been handled better at the city equalization board. Mane presented a lengthy list of concerns. As he tried to summarize the issues, he said, "It’s not right for us to be paying taxes for something that is not the Taj Mahal." Fay Horn, Garrison’s city assessor, explained that the Garrison Board of Equalization heard the individual property owners’ concerns at their meeting, but made a decision for the group to not follow Horn’s recommendations as a whole. Instead, they approved the valuation assessments for all of the group using the valuations from the previous year. The Garrison board did not follow up on the individual concerns.

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