Reaction to Mayor Ken Lamont

A letter appeared in the Monday, April 9th Tribune (Mandan not No. 1 in property taxes) that continued the disinformation campaign that local officials continue to wage against taxpayers. The premise of this disinformation is that because mill levy rates decrease, property taxes are less burdensome. Anyone who pays property taxes understands that the mill levy rate really doesn’t matter – rather it is the valuation of the property that really matters.

Local officials have always played the mill levy shell game. They will decrease the mill levy by 3% and turn around and increase the valuation by 12%. This way they can campaign on lower mills when the actual dollar amount that the city collects increases. It’s a masterful way for local officials to have their cake and eat it too.

One only needs to look as far as page 83 the State Tax Commissioner’s “Red Book: Comparison of State and Local Taxes” for the list of the 13 largest cities in the state, and the comparison of property taxes on a $100,000 home (payable in 2006). This chart clearly shows that Mandan is indeed the highest taxed city of the largest 13 cities in the state at $2,286/year for property taxes.
It really is amazing that local officials have the audacity to write to local papers to skew the facts to make people think it’s not so bad. These same local officials have convinced their supporters and voters that it is the state legislature’s fault that property taxes are so high. The legislature does not set local mill levy rates or manipulate property valuations, local officials do.

When confronted with the fact they are overtaxing their residents, local officials will likely start complaining about state education funding. When a local official tells you that taxes are high because the state hasn’t funded education enough, ask that official why the Total Per Pupil Cost of Education increased 40% (adjusted for inflation) from 1994 to 2004. Then ask that local official why only 58% of education spending actually makes it to the classroom. How many businesses can survive with 42% administrative overhead? Not many.

The Mayor of Mandan should rethink playing the mill levy shell game when families in his city are struggling to pay their tax bills. If property taxes were based on real percentages, and property valuations were limited to the mid-west consumer price index, there would be no need for the state legislature to even discuss getting involved by rebating a tax it never collected in the first place. The responsibility of local taxation and local spending is that of local officials like the Mayor of Mandan who chooses political spin over controlling spending for his residents.

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