Image: Why Your Property Taxes Are So High

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A few weeks ago I contacted city officials in North Dakota’s four largest cities – Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot – and requested the amount of property tax value that had received a discretionary exemption from the government (as opposed to mandatory exemptions for schools, churches, etc.).

The number I got back was $810,000,000 for just those four cities. That’s a huge amount of property value that’s not taxed because of exemption, and the obvious conclusion is that a lot of the reason why there is so much upward pressure on the property taxes those of us without exemptions pay is because so much property value has been taken off the rolls.

Opponents of abolishing property taxes – the proponents of the government handing out property tax exemptions only to specific, often politically well-connected businesses – have poo-pooed the idea that exemptions are creating a problem, often citing that exemptions make up only 3% of property taxes.

I’m not sure how they arrive at that figure, but this photo (taken by Measure 2 supporter Charlene Nelson) of a map hung up in Valley City’s municipal offices shows in yellow all the property in that city that has been taken off the property tax rolls:

Obviously, some of that may be the churches and schools and the like that get mandatory exemptions, but not all of that yellow area is mandatory. A good deal of it is discretionary.

Only the people who own property in the white areas are paying property taxes in Valley City. The rest are exempt. And I’m sure this pattern is emulated in pretty much every municipality in the state.

We’ve narrowed the property tax base so much it has become a problem. Measure 2 would put every property owner in the state on the same footing by turning all of North Dakota into a yellow zone.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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