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North Dakota property tax plan spurs debate about hurting local schools, governments

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Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) There are warnings of cuts to municipal governments and schools, and some loss of local control for budget decisions, amid efforts to eliminate property taxes in North Dakota. Organizers of a possible ballot question downplay those concerns.

Petitions are being circulated to get the issue on the 2024 ballot, asking voters to do away with property taxes by way of a constitutional amendment. 

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Nick Archuleta, president of the teacher's union North Dakota United, said the state would have to replace around one-and-a-half billion dollars in lost funding, some of which includes money for schools, and added not only does it make it harder to address teacher shortages, but the Legislature would have to play favorites.

"The smaller school districts across the state will be at a disadvantage in going to the Legislature for capital improvements like new schools," he explained. 

He added future planning would be taken out of the hands of local officials. But leaders behind the petition say political subdivisions would still have flexibility to raise revenue through fee hikes. They add the state is overspending and that property owners need relief. Earlier this year, North Dakota adopted a $500 million package to help reduce the impact of income and property taxes.

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Matt Gardner, executive director of the North Dakota League of Cities, which also opposes the ballot question effort, said there needs to be time for the recent tax package to bring the relief that was promised. In the meantime, he added if the petition ends up being successful, communities would be hindered in trying to thrive. 

"If you don't have these resources available to you or other options, you're probably going to stagnate. I mean, some communities may find value in their community center and might be OK with property tax increases," he continued. 

He said local governments might find it harder to maintain public safety services, such as buying new fire trucks. Meanwhile, petition organizers say any arguments about hurting responses to emergency situations, such as major snow events, don't add up. They contend property tax decisions are typically based on long-term strategies, not immediate operating expenses.