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New England property taxes increase

Some New England residents were shocked to see that their property taxes had doubled on their latest statements, which were released earlier this month.

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Some New England residents were shocked to see that their property taxes had doubled on their latest statements, which were released earlier this month.

People in New England may have noticed an increase - some increasing by 80 to 110 percent - in their property taxes - the result of a recent appraisal.

But this increase was the result of the city and county's efforts to get residents' property taxes on par with the rest of North Dakota, said Chris Fitterer, a New England city council member.

Hettinger County did what every other county in the state has been doing the last few years - a total reassessment of property values, he said. New England's property values have been low for many years, so the increase appears more dramatic as the city catches up to the rates of other areas across the state, he said. Properties in Mott and Regent were also reassessed, but these property owners did not see as dramatic of an increase in taxes because these areas had been more recently appraised and their values were higher than New England's as a result.

The property taxes increased for the city, county and school district, he said.

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"When the state sees our home values as low as they are, that's why they want to do a reassessment," Fitterer said. "Mott and Regent and New England, all three went through the same thing. It wasn't just New England."

Though some property owners were aware they were paying lower rates for years, the extent of the increase in property taxes shocked some.

"They're damn lucky I was sitting down," said Allen Schmidt, a New England resident of about 40 years and former city council member. "They're low, that's why people live in New England. Taxes were low, there ain't no doubt about it, but did they have to take it all at one time? No."

The county hired Vanguard Appraisals, Inc., based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to reappraise property in the county and offered to help New England with the appraisal within its limits if it desired, said John Plaggemeyer, a Hettinger County commissioner who represents New England. He estimated that the county probably paid about 80 percent of the cost of the city's appraisal because they are so expensive, but that the city contributed as well.

"If the city wouldn't have done it, the state would have probably done it at some time because we were so out of compliance," Plaggemeyer said. "Taxation is supposed to be equal and fair, and we were way out of compliance."

Property owners in New England may have been paying different property values based on the time their property was last assessed, he said.

"We had houses that were sold here in town in the last 10 years," Plaggemeyer said. "They were all brought up to standards, and of course they were paying a lot more in taxes than their neighbor right next to them where the house has never been sold before. The state is saying, 'That's not fair.'"

Schmidt said he did not feel that the scope of the increase was made clear to the community.

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"We were pretty sure it was going to increase ... but I don't think anybody realized it was going to increase what it did," Schmidt said. "I really, really don't think so. Anybody I've talked to, and that's been over half of the town, I'm sure that nobody ever expected that."

New England Mayor Marty Opdahl also noted that he was stunned at the degree of the increase.

"At the city level we were very surprised that our taxes increased at the level that they did," he said. "We were surprised even after the appraisal because when the county came in and talked about the appraisal being done, and there was a community meeting then. They said, 'Just because the values go up does not mean your taxes are going to go up.' And so there was some miscommunications there."

He also noted that the increase was greater than what the city had budgeted for, but acknowledged that this discrepancy could be due to the county and school district's tax increases as well. However, he said he intended to look at every property in New England to add up the increases from the previous year and determine how much additional revenue there will be.

"The city does not want to be a collector of funds if we're not going to use them," he said. "What we budgeted is what we're going to need."

The properties were appraised at a higher value because they were appraised during the oil boom-sometime during 2014 and 2015-when market values were higher, Opdahl said. Those values have since dropped, but the land is still appraised at that higher value.

He noted that, though the sudden increase came as an undesired surprise, the city had been paying impractical property taxes on "arbitrarily low" true and assessed property values before the recent reassessment.

"I don't like my tax bill increasing either, but we need to be realistic about some of these," Opdahl said. "The newer houses that came on they were assessed as they were being built, and so they did not see as big of an increase. The houses that have been in New England for 50 years have not seen much of an increase, and so they were hit harder because of this."

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Plaggemeyer said he has received several calls from concerned community members, some of whom he has discussed the Homestead Credit with - a credit North Dakotans can apply for if they are struggling to pay their property taxes, he said. He said he, the city or county auditor would help residents fill out the application if needed.

Fitterer said that the property owners in the area were paying lower property taxes for the last 30 years or so and are now seeing that increase all at once. He said he thinks the city should have been raising those property values and taxes gradually over time, but noted that reassessments are expensive. This was New England's first full reassessment ever.

The city had been losing money every year for "quite a while" as a result - with a yearly shortfall of $30,000 in the city, he said.

Opdahl said the city had not been able to increase its budget in the six years he has been mayor because of the low property values. Meanwhile the city's costs kept increasing.

"This came as a shock but New England is still the best place in the world to live right now, and it's still a very, very community-minded, everybody is community-minded," Opdahl said. "The volunteerism sense is unbelievable there. ... Even though we've got some negatives on this, it is still a very positive place to live."

Related Topics: NEW ENGLAND
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