City stymied by crack in state law

A Minot woman who fell through a crack in a state program designed to help low-income and disabled homeowners learned Tuesday that the Minot City Council has no legal recourse to help her.

North Dakota’s Homestead Tax Credit provides property-tax relief to eligible homeowners while reimbursing the taxing entities. The program has a Feb. 1 deadline for applications.

Minot resident Denise Pettit, who is deaf, asked the city to reconsider her 2021 application after it was denied because the transfer of the family home into her name didn’t occur until Feb. 19. Through a neighbor and sign language interpreter, she stated she didn’t become aware of the denial until taxes became past due and beyond her income to pay.

Damon Druse, assessor with the City of Minot, said he and the city attorney had reached out to the state after learning of Pettit’s situation and were told the Feb. 1 deadline stands. There is no mechanism in the law for a prorated credit, he said.

“I’m angered by this situation,” said council member Scott Burlingame, who is executive director at Independence, Inc., an organization that advocates for people with disabilities. “I think it’s completely unacceptable.”

He said the council’s vote to deny the abatement doesn’t indicate members believe it is right.

“I think it’s ridiculous, and I think it’s a law that needs to be changed by the state,” he said. “Because this is exactly the opposite of everything that we want to be doing.”

“It sounds like a good thing to talk to our legislators about,” council member Carrie Evans said. “That seems ridiculous that you happen to move in from February to December and you don’t even get a prorated (tax).”

City Attorney Stefanie Stalheim said she has visited with other cities as well, and there appears to be no recourse for the city to handle the application any differently. She said the tax abatement request now goes to the Ward County Commission, although she was uncertain how much more flexibility that board might have.

Burlingame later reached out to legislators about possible solutions. The window for introducing new legislation has passed but he planned to look into other options to address this “hole in the law that’s making it hard for senior citizens to stay in their homes.”


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