Four Valley City School Board members, the superintendent, four presenters and several audience members were on hand Monday night at a special school board meeting to discuss Measure 2, which will be on the ballot this fall.
The controversial constitutional measure will eliminate property taxes in the state if it passes. However property taxes also pay for a major portion of the government services in North Dakota, as well as 30 percent of kindergarten through grade 12 education. Property taxes have been rising steadily over the years, threatening many land owners’ ability to keep their properties.
Charlene Nelson, the chairperson of Empower the Tax Payer, a citizen’s group in favor of Measure 2, said the tax is complicated, unfair and unnecessary.
“We’ve done quite a bit of research on the issue of property tax,” she said.
“No matter how you look at it, property tax simply cannot be reformed without further complicating what is already a very complex, almost incomprehensible tax.”
Nelson said the 30 percent funding the schools receive from the state comes with strings attached, and the state should fund the schools at 100 percent and let local school boards decide how the money should be spent.
“It is an outside-of-the-box approach; it is something unexpected, totally unheard of in most corners,” she said. “It might be a little scary but when we look at the alternative of putting an ever-increasing, ever-burdening tax on families and the people that are vulnerable in our community... we have to question ‘are we ready to continue with the status quo of this tax, or are we ready for something that is truly novel?’”
Greg Burns of the North Dakota Education Association spoke on behalf of the Keep It Local North Dakota coalition, and said his group does not like the property tax, but cutting it out completely will hurt the formula the state currently uses to fund local government subdivisions. Those formulas, he said, are all factored with property taxes in mind.
As one of the officials who worked with legislatures to establish the formula the state uses for school funding, he said, “I don’t know how anybody can devise a formula that will take care of emergency services, police fire roads libraries, senior services, and that’s just to list a few,” he said. “I find it very strange that Empower the Tax Payer says the reason they put this into a measure is the legislature tried on 100-and-some odd occasions to fix it and they didn’t fix it, but they’re going to trust that same legislature to come up with a formula that’s this complex. There’s an inconsistency that still hasn’t been explained to our satisfaction.”
Burns said property taxes are a tax citizens pay to each other for the high standard of living they expect in their community, and passing Measure 2 would thrust the state into financial uncertainty.
Sen. Larry Robinson D-Valley City said until a major overhaul of the state’s tax system, he does not see this issue going away regardless of what happens at the polls in November.
“If this measure passes or if this measure does not pass,” he said, “the message has been heard loud and clear... I would challenge those of you that are opponents, those of you that are proponents, that we join forces and ensure one way or another that we have meaningful tax reform – not relief – that’s sustainable for the long run.”
Rep. Ralph Metcalf D–Valley City said he opposes property taxes, calling it “the worst tax in the world,” but that the rush to eliminate the tax carries too much uncertainty at this time.
“I encourage this committee to go ahead into the future, but don’t try to do it by yourself and don’t try to do it overnight.... There’s so many different things that affect so many different people, go slow on this.”
In her closing remarks, Nelson urged people to visit her group’s website at www.YesM2.com , and ask themselves who should take on the burden of funding what is currently paid for by property taxes.
“What happens when the economy goes down? Who should suffer? Should it be the families who suffer the most that have to do the most belt tightening, the most economizing, when the economy takes a turn? Or should our government and government services do some belt tightening as well?” she said.