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Dickinson school tax levy increase not an increase in taxes

Taxes are complicated, infuriating and inevitable. Whether buying a sweater or buying a house, a percentage of the purchase goes toward building roads, paying teachers and purchasing patrol cars.

Last week, Dickinson residents received a letter from the Dickinson Public School District inviting them to "a public hearing to consider increasing the Dickinson Public School District property tax levy by 21.5 percent" on Monday evening.

The "increase" is a result of a formula change from Senate Bill 2036 passed during the 2013 legislative session, which provides North Dakota residents with property tax relief in the form of a mills buydown to the schools, said DPS Superintendent Doug Sullivan. But the actual amount collected from taxpayers will be approximately $400,000 less than it was last year.

"The formula that we were required to utilize because of Senate Bill 2036 to calculate the 21.5 percent, in our opinion, is not accurate," Sullivan said. "It does not accurately reflect what will happen with the number of mills and the amount of property tax dollars that we will collect in 2013."

The state bought mills from each school district in an effort to lower property tax bills. This decreased mills for Dickinson Public Schools by 45.5 mills from what they levied last year.

"We know that the assessments in the community -- the property tax assessments -- increased for everybody," Sullivan said. "But if the property tax assessment did not increase from 2012 to 2013 on a house with an assessed value of $125,000, our estimate is that there would be a tax savings of $511."

The value of a mill changes each year, Dickinson City Assessor Joe Hirschfeld said.

"One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of value," Hirschfeld said. "But then you've got differences. That's based off of taxable value, and not full and true value."

In the past, Dickinson Public Schools collected about 40 percent of a property owner's total tax bill, Hirschfeld said. The city and county each collect 25 percent and the remaining 10 percent goes to the Dickinson Park Board.

"I'm more sitting on the sidelines watching this with everybody else," Hirschfeld said.

His busy period is when assessment letters go out in April.

In addition to the state providing funding to the schools, all property owners will see a 12 percent discount on their property tax bill, State Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said.

"At this point, it's hard to say what taxpayers are going to get until all of these political subdivisions complete their budgeting process," Fong said.

As local governments create their budgets, now is the time for concerned citizens to speak their voice, Fong said.

"If you have any interest, if you have any concerns about the budget, if you have any concerns about what the locals are spending their money on, they should show up to these hearings," Fong said. "This is the time if they do have interest in what locals are spending their money on and what they're getting for their taxes. This is the time to show up for these hearings."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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