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Campaigns ramp up messaging for North Dakota property tax question

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Mike Moen

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(Prairie News Service) Signatures were expected to be submitted Friday for a potential fall ballot question which would largely do away with property taxes in North Dakota.

The Secretary of State will review the signatures sent in by petition organizers, who said property owners are in big need of tax relief. A coalition opposing the idea is intensifying efforts to lay out the consequences.

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Chad Oban, executive director of the teacher's union North Dakota United, echoed what other skeptics pointed out: The plan does not explain how the lost revenue would be replaced. In addition to key services funded by local property taxes, such as schools and emergency response, Oban warned of other harm.

"People who have money are buying up property all over the country and turning it into rental property or Airbnbs and that kind of thing," Oban pointed out. "That's going to happen here. I mean, if you're an investor, why not buy property in a place where you're not going to pay property taxes?"

He added it could unfold as North Dakota grapples with an affordable housing shortage. An independent analysis by the Legislative Council estimated a statewide revenue loss of $1.3 billion if the proposal becomes reality. Supporters contended North Dakota government consistently overspends and the Legislature should have no problem covering the losses.

Oban emphasized communities would essentially lose local control in setting their budgets. As for asking the state to help out, he argued smaller communities would have a tougher time seeking funds to buy equipment, like a fire truck.

"You're in a rural area and you can't levy property taxes, so you have to go to Bismarck and ask the Legislature to pay for that fire truck," Oban stressed. "Well, Fargo might be asking for a fire truck, too."

He added Fargo has plenty of representatives to request those funds, while smaller communities do not.

Jason Bohrer, president of the coal industry's Lignite Energy Council, which is among the other 60-plus groups to join the opposition campaign, worries about the loss of school funding, saying it would make it harder to attract workers. He warned of another workforce side effect.

"Not only do you not get potentially the person working at the power plant, you also don't that person's spouse working at the local gym or as a teacher in the local school," Bohrer cautioned.