Area farmers upset with land valuation

New state soils data used in determining farmland values has some area farmers up in arms.

“The valuations are not proportionate to the actual land value,” said Charlie Sorenson, a Debing Township supervisor from Ross. He said the valuation method seems to only work well for top-quality cropland or low-quality noncrop land.

“What we are finding is the top and bottom are correct, but in the middle, they are all over the place,” he said. “In the middle, we have just a total mix-up.”

An assessment method that uses new, detailed soil types is affecting landowners in Mountrail, Burke and, to a certain extent, Ward counties. Although Mountrail and Burke are this year moving to the use of soil types, Ward County has been using soil types previously. However, the more detailed information being used by all three counties is causing the consternation.

In Mountrail County, townships saw changes in farmland valuations that ranged from an increase of 130 percent to a decline of 18 percent, Sorenson said.

Fred Evans, Stanley, said one landowner near New Town reported two tracts up more than 250 percent in valuation.

The problem stems from the lack of any distinction being made based on land use, Evans said. It is causing, in some cases, pasture land to be valued more highly than cropland, he said.

The North Dakota Legislature instituted the requirement to assess using soil types about 10 years ago, but counties were given until 2013 to comply. After 2012, the state began withholding 5 percent of the state aid distribution money from counties that failed to comply. For instance, Mountrail County has had $341,568 withheld until it comes into compliance. Mountrail, Burke and Nelson counties are adopting the detailed soil types this year, leaving Dunn County as the only county not yet in compliance.

Ward County Tax Director Ryan Kamrowski said the county’s move to more current soil type data resulted in some property values going up while others went down. Ward County does not consider how land is used in determining value.

The law allows for counties to consider land use and apply modifiers to correct for situations, such as when soil is productive but the terrain is not suited to farming. Counties can establish soil committees to consider these issues, although it requires on-site visits and considerable investigation to document where to apply modifiers across a county. Recommendations of the soil committee go to the county commission for final action, and any modifiers also must be approved by the state.

“I am not saying that’s a bad route to go, but it takes a lot of committee involvement,” Kamrowski said. He has been attempting since 2015 to establish a five-member soils committee. So far, he has two individuals willing to serve and needs to find one more just to have a quorum.

In the meantime, landowners had the right to take their protests to their township equalization boards and can appeal to the county equalization board.

Lee Brandvold, chairman of the Cameron Township Board, rural Minot, said his board cut the increases in farmland valuations in his township by half during its equalization meeting. In retrospect, the board should have eliminated the increases entirely, he said.

“A lot of this land shouldn’t have been changed – not anywhere near what it was,” he said.

Another issue in Ward County is townships were blindsided by the change and each acted differently in attempting to address the grievances during equalization meetings, he added. Those varying actions will go to the county commission, acting as the board of equalization, to be reconciled.

“The range of what each township did was so wide that it’s going to put kind of a large decision on the commission as to what they will accept,” Brandvold said.

Lori Hanson, tax director in Mountrail County, said county equalization boards have limited ability to adjust valuations without having modifiers pre-approved by the county and state.

“This is a mandate by the state of North Dakota. There’s no choice,” Hanson said.

A group of Mountrail farmers plans to ask their county commission, acting as the equalization board, to remain with 2016 valuations and set up a soils committee to put a system of implementing the soil types in place. The group is circulating petitions and has created an online petition at ipetitions.com/petition/reverse-mountrail-county-taxation-method.

Ten of Mountrail’s 43 townships rejected the new assessment method at their equalization meetings.

“In our township, we approved the valuation even though we didn’t feel they were correct,” Sorenson said.

Those township actions now go to the county for final action.

Mountrail and Burke counties also are small counties with limited resources to put toward developing modifiers and other tweaks to the assessment method.

“It would cost a lot of money that Burke County doesn’t have to line up this soils committee, pay travel and send them out,” said Tax Director Kris Hillaert. “I don’t have the manpower and I don’t believe the county has the money.”

Burke County Commissioner Andrew Dosch, Powers Lake, who also is a township chairman, said the new assessment method drew fire at the township equalization meeting. He believes the protests should have been directed to the Legislature.

“I don’t agree with what the state did,” he said. “At the same time, there’s nothing we can do.”

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