Keeping a close eye on legislative issues

The North Dakota Legislature is a busy place, where for up to 80 days, lawmakers from across the state debate, discuss, and decide the fate of hundreds of bills. The decisions made by our elected legislators have the potential to negatively or positively impact not only the lives of our state’s residents, but also municipal governments across North Dakota. Often, decisions made during the Legislature change the way local governments operate on a day-to-day basis.

At the City of Minot, we’ve kept watch on upwards of 200 bills so far this session, including legislation related to taxing issues, the formula for HUB city funding, Sunday opening laws, and a host of others. Representatives from the City have testified in person and in writing on dozens of bills during the first half of the session. We expect to testify on a lot more bills following crossover.

One specific issue from the North Dakota Legislature that we’re closely tracking is House Bill 1471. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, the bill would prohibit cities from charging different building permit fees in extra-territorial areas compared to fees within city limits, and would also bar cities from creating more restrictive regulations in extra-territorial areas.

Recent concerns about Minot’s building inspection fees stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of our City’s process. The belief that residents in the two-mile extra-territorial zone pay double what City residents pay simply isn’t true. In reality, residents within city limits and residents in the ET zone all pay the actual cost of the building permit service. They simply pay the fee in different ways.

Think of it this way: A building permit fee for a hypothetical project within City limits is calculated to be $150. Because the homeowner pays City property taxes, which fund the department that does the building permit work, a portion of that $150 has already been paid. The remaining portion of the bill is $75, which is due when the permit is submitted. There is no discount to the homeowner, who has still paid the $150 fee, just in two different ways.

Let’s use the same hypothetical project happening outside of City limits but in the two-mile zone: The building permit fee is still calculated to be $150, but because the homeowner doesn’t pay City property taxes to fund the department that does the work, the total $150 fee for the service is now due. This homeowner has also paid $150, but paid it in one way.

A homeowner within City limits pays property taxes every year that help fund the department that handles building permits and inspections, even if the homeowner has never needed a building permit or inspection services. This investment establishes standardized safety requirements in all structures built within the jurisdiction, ensuring if you enter a building or investigate purchasing a home, the City has inspection records indicating the structure met the proper requirements when built. It’s a public safety issue.

The City has been doing building inspections in the two-mile area for decades, for a variety of reasons. First, when the City’s extra-territorial area expands, we are required by state statute to perform the building inspections within that zone. It’s our responsibility by law. Second, by doing the inspections ourselves, the City of Minot now has records necessary to verify inspections and certificates of occupancy if the property is annexed into the city at a later date. Otherwise, there would be gaps in the inspection timeline and paperwork.

This bill, which was passed by the North Dakota House, will have repercussions for Minot residents if it becomes law. City taxpayers will subsidize the cost of inspections done on projects outside City limits, and that cost will be funded through property taxes. So while this bill would benefit a very small number of residents outside Minot, it would unfairly penalize all Minot residents who pay City property taxes that provide that benefit.

I hope this clears up any confusion on this issue. Again, no one is paying double fees; everyone is simply paying the fee. We’ll continue to watch this bill and the discussion around it as it moves to the Senate following crossover.

Sincerely, City Hall

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