Since 2007 Local North Dakota Governments Have Gobbled Up $752 Million In “Property Tax Relief”


In Bismarck today legislators met to discuss a new report from the state’s Office of Management and Budget projecting a $1.6 billion budget surplus, and this quote from Jerry Kelsh (D – District 26) caught my eye.

“I think it’s good news for the property tax payers,” Kelsh told the Associated Press. “We’re going to be able to help them some more.”

What Kelsh is talking about is the roughly $752 million in “property tax relief” proposed by Governors John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple and approved by the legislature in the 2007 through 2011 sessions. Yet, despite this spending (it’s not tax relief but increased appropriations to the local level to buy down local property taxes) North Dakotans are anything but satisfied with their property tax bill.

Though a measure to eliminate property taxes entirely was defeated on the ballot this June (Measure 2), most political observers in the state agree that North Dakotans do want property tax relief. But the “relief” they’ve gotten over the last four years hasn’t worked. Property taxes keep going up.

Here in Minot city leaders are considering property tax increases that would represent a roughly 8.5% increase in mill levies (not counting big increases in valuations most property owners got hit with as well). In Burleigh County (Bismarck) commissioners just got done approving a property tax increase.

This same story can be told across the state. Despite gobbling up $752 million in appropriations from the legislature intended to buy-down property taxes, the bill property owners in this state are asked to pay gets bigger. And what is the only solution being proposed right now? Governor Dalrymple wants another big, fat appropriation to the local governments, this time to the tune of $445 million, which would bring the total spent on “property tax relief” since 2007 to $1.197 billion.

Not only are tax payers are taxpayers on the hook for all that state spending on the local level, but they’re not even getting property tax relief from the local governments anyway. This tax relief isn’t lowering anybody’s tax burdens.

North Dakotans rejected the elimination of property taxes. Fine. But clearly, if we’re to achieve real tax relief, we’ve got to try something different than what Dalrymple and other state leaders are proposing.

Rob Port is the editor of 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.

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  • $8194357

    Crony capitalism…
    From the collective pockets to the cronys pocket.

  • sbark

    Measure 2 was a IQ test for N.Dak citizens (Flamemeister)…….most failed miserably
    I see ironically our county just applied for a 7.5% prop tax increase——-meeting to be held of course…..

    • tony_o2

      M2 was a political test. ND citizens rejected the redistribution of State taxes…

  • Lianne

    Maybe Taylor could announce that he would demand real property tax relief for everyone who actually pays taxes if he were elected! (Just bit of humor for Friday morning)

  • Wesley Fargo

    It would be interesting to see the break down of the reasons why the cities and counties need to increase their mills, while others are holding reign on there mills. We must concede that the expenses of running a town are out pacing the ability of those that fund them, but how or why? Fuel for police cars, trucks and street equipment, a major part of most budgets, has doubled in 4 years, Health Ins for employees, has went up ~50% in 4 years. Salaries and pension costs have escalated. and the cost of Asphalt to repair roads has skyrocketed to the point that concrete in most cases is cheaper. Where does that put us, the property taxpayer? I know that growing school districts need buildings and expanding towns need new roads, and older parts of town need sewer replacement and road overlays. And they all cost money.

    Do we really want to rely on the benevolence of Bismarck and the legislature or are there other ways to save?

    I think some big school districts could consolidate, Fargo West Fargo, possibly a Cass county district. Maybe Bismark /Mandan and a Ward County, the long term savings by being able to purchase in larger amounts, reduce duplication and elimination of those duplicated positions may be of benefit that out weighs the cumbersome task of consolidation.

    Same with Police departments, Fargo /West Fargo and the small outlying communities are all served by the Cass County Sheriffs Dept. so why have 2 police departments mixed in? combine the 3 agencies and have it run by the elected Sheriff. I don’t think anyone would notice the change of response times or anything else, but the reduction in duplication would be to our fiscal advantage.

    there are several other ways to reduce duplication in county city maintenance shops, equipment, snow removal etc.

    There are several more ways and its time to get the conversation started.

    maybe its time we start pressing our local officials into working together. Perhaps if the state is to fund some of this with the surplus, the could insist on consolidations as a part of the acceptance of funds.

    • Roy_Bean

      If you want to save money and improve services, get rid of the Highway Patrol and divide that money up amoung the county sheriff’s offices. you would have double the number of officers on the road and wouldn’t have to add anything to the administrative cost that is already in place. Combine that with a system of district attorney’s under the Attorney General and we would start to have something.

      • Wesley Fargo

        The state should take over thecost of our court system from the counties, I like your idea that the DA’s be under the AG’s office so their is a uniform DA’s office structure across the state. does a county with 3000 people really need a ful time DA office? perhaps they could be regional, say 10 or 15 regional offices? I don’t know, but these are the type of topics that should be discussed. We cannot fix the property tax problem by jsut giving money to the counties. Like the feds, we will have to start streamlining our expenses.

        Look at it this way, would a major corporation, if running our state, raise its prices or look to cut costs. We need WalMart type cost containment, not Obama style spread the wealth.

    • Gern Blanston

      Sidebar: West Fargo is too proud to join with Fargo’s school district. Part of me doesn’t blame them. Fargo’s school district is tiny by national standards, but it already shows signs of being bloated by its bureaucracy. I’m not convinced West Fargo, let alone Casselton or the others would want any part of that.

  • Harold

    If our legislators don’t give North Dakota taxpayers real property tax relief this time around they will be voted out of office next election. Its long overdue for some tax relief in this state and they all know it but their greed for more money from the rest of us outweighs them doing the right thing in this area of our state budget.

    • Wesley Fargo

      I agree the state should reduce our taxes, but giving money to cities so they can build bike lanes, Civic centers, new libraries (when there was nothing wrong with the old one) and pave the 10 acre lot in which they recycle grass/leaves (Fargo) isn’t exactly the best thing to do, its like giving sailors an extra cash bonus as the leave the ship for the weekend.

      Right now, while we have the money, is the time to re-structure our way of thinking on spending. Reduce income taxes, and reduce sales taxes to the state, and shift them to the counties, that way the counties will have to figure the best and most prudent way of spending those funds.

      in the end, we can have a trust fund that continues to help pay normal state operating expenses, and at the same time hold our local officals feet to the fire when it comes to spending. otherwise when the boom goes away in 20 years we will really be in a sorry state.

    • $8194357

      Can’t tell the Dems from the Reupublicans.
      Dang socialist/communist NPL got them both..

    • NDWinds

      Harold, while I agree with you that if no significant tax relief is forthcoming from our legislators they should be voted out. How is it we continue to have this notion that they will do so? Given the enormous victory KIL had with M2 and recently Bismarck voters embrace a significant bond to build more schools, where is our hope? Legislators have no incentive with results like these. They will continue to talk a good game and that’s all it will be. We pawns will continue to pay while the “public servants” play.

  • matthew_bosch

    ND state and local government spitting in the taxpayer’s faces after the taxpayer’s listened to their pleas of mercy? Shocking. As a Measure 2 supporter I should be gloating with “I told you so’s.” But I’m to busy enduring this long road-trip of North Dakotan economic insolvency.

    • $8194357


  • headward

    Measure 2 should have allowed property owners to paid their property tax if they think it’s so great.
    Look on the bright side, atleast they aren’t spending it on something else like higher ed.

  • jimmypop

    “Property taxes keep going up.”

    then vote the folks out that you disagree with. unlike measure 2 where you would have been 98% powerless.

    you could also donate money, help with by going door to door or better yet run yourself.

    • flamemeister

      Are you saying Measure 2 would have given the government 2% less power?

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    What frightens me is that this surplus will lead to new spending. I wouldn’t mind one-time expenses such as highway work or school renovations, but I am fearful of some things Taylor has suggested such as increased wages for teachers. Such things are ongoing and Taylor does not suggest what will happen if the money is no longer coming in.

    An alternative I see is tax cuts. If necessary taxes could be raised later, but the state clearly is collecting too much money. I would prefer income tax cuts because keeping local property taxes higher means that voters pay more attention to how their local government spends money

    • Jenni88

      what a crock…they do what they want anyway….pointless to argue or present or share anything…every meeting I have been to lately, the decision had been made, but they were required to have a public meeting….when the meeting is over they just pass what they already decided….Please….someone with a brain start running for office…also someone who is not tied to the “Good ole Boy network!”

  • tony_o2

    If we have a surplus in State tax revenue, how about a reduction in State taxes? Reduce the State sales tax, fuel tax, income tax, etc. Reduce the taxes that have contributed to the State surplus.

    Local property taxes are a problem. But the only solution(s) have been to redistribute State tax revenue to offset/eliminate local property taxes. What has been done on the local level to fix property taxes? Has anyone called for local income taxes to replace property taxes? How about increasing local sales taxes to replace property taxes? What has been proposed to replace local property taxes with local taxes?

    • Wesley Fargo

      That would be my 1st line of biz if I waz king of ND, reduce state sales tax from 5% to 2 or 3% the 2 or 3% could then be shifted to the counties in which the taxes are collected. That would (should) result in a Mill reduction on property. The state is collecting way more than it needs, the money collected should stay in the counties, it is way easier to manage local boards and commissions than an entire legislature.

      Another way is to shift COSTS from the Property tax to the state. for instance, county court systems do not enforce very many county laws, the enforce and try STATE LAWS so why is it up to the county taxpayers to pay the costs of operating courts that enforce state laws? The state should pay those expenses and thus our property taxes would (should) go down by that amount.

      Social Services, nearly all the rules, benefits, and programs and payments are set and funded by the state and not the county, so why then does the county collect property tax to help pay the administration and overhead costs for these programs? The state should either pay rent from the courthouses or move them into state office buildings and relieve the property tax payers of those expenses.

      Finally why does the state maintain a fleet of trucks and operators to maintain the state roads and just down the street the counties have tier own shops? if I were king of ND for a day, these fleets and operators would be shifted to the counties and the counties would then be responsible for all the road ways in the county. The state would then allocate a per mile funding to pay their costs of the road maintenance.