A number of Ward County residents aren't happy to learn their garages or storage sheds are being taxed as commercial property, and Ward County Commission chairman Jerome Gruenberg of Burlington is among them.
The county commission, meeting as the county board of equalization Tuesday, heard from one property owner about the issue. Gruenberg, whose own property is affected, said he had received calls from several others.
The situation arises from state law that classifies property as commercial if it isn't a residence or used for agriculture. Platting of a property can disqualify it as agricultural.
"There's no way you can consider a storage shed on somebody's property as commercial. There's no way you can take an empty lot and call it commercial," Gruenberg said. "This rule has to be changed, and if we have to approach the state to do it, we will lead that charge."
Commissioner Alan Walter said the state needs to create a new category for taxation that recognizes that people have utility buildings.
Minot city assessor Kevin Ternes said the tax increase associated with having a property assessed commercial as opposed to residential is about 10 percent.
County declares emergency for Kenmare flood damages
Five to seven inches of rain in the Kenmare area last weekend led the Ward County Commission Tuesday to issue an emergency declaration to assist in getting aid to cover thousands of dollars in damages.
Emergency manager Amanda Schooling said soil that was already saturated meant much of the water flowed overland, damaging a rural wooden bridge and causing an estimated $334,000 in township road damages.
The City of Kenmare had a police car's motor damaged when the officer attempted to navigate through water in an intersection that was deeper than expected. The city estimated more than $90,000 in street damages.
The heaviest rain came Sunday when it rained all day, coming down in sheets at times, city auditor Barb Wiedmer, in Kenmare, said Tuesday. The runoff washed out gravel and pavement on multiple roads, and many residents had water in their basements, she said.
The county commission lifted a March emergency declaration covering the Rice Lake flooding, replacing it with a new countywide declaration based on the event this past weekend. Schooling said the Des Lacs River rose a half foot from the rain and is being monitored, although no downstream flooding is expected.
Part of the significance of the issue is that commercial property assessed through the county is scheduled to go up 20 percent across the board. The county equalization board also approved across-the-board increases of 8 percent on residential property and 11 percent on agricultural property to stay in compliance with state law requiring assessments to track selling prices or follow an ag valuation formula.
Commissioner John Fjeldahl voted to support some townships that submitted reports resisting the valuation increases. However, it was pointed out that the state board of equalization will adjust assessments to meet state law if the county fails to do so.
The county board won't finalize assessments until June 17. The tax assessor's office continues to address properties for which taxpayers have requested reviews before assessments are finalized.
Ternes said Minot commercial property is seeing an average increase of 12 to 13 percent, while residential property assessments are stable or have dropped slightly.
He said Minot isn't seeing the increases that county is forced to impose because the city has been keeping pace with selling prices, which are stabilizing.
"I am convinced from what I have seen that the rural properties have been under-assessed for quite some time. I believe you are in a situation where you are still playing a little catch-up," Ternes told the board.