Latest debacle illustrates county’s lack of foresight
The decision by the Ward County Commission this week to table efforts to verify qualification of farm families’ property-tax exempt status is another example of poor planning and equivocation on its part.
Weather modifications? Yes, no, yes. Call for removal of a sheriff on trial? No, yes, no.
It’s not changing as the situation changes, which would be a delightful change of pace for any government body. It’s lack of foresight and timid political will, going where the current wind blows, a luxury afforded the commission only because it has yet to face the institutional challenges its members so desperately warrant.
In this case, the county is legally obligated to ensure that farm families who apply for and receive an exemption to property taxes qualify under the conditions set forward by the state. Many counties in North Dakota have already started the verification process. Ward County rightly instituted its own process, utilizing an eligibility verification form created by the state. This week’s decision to table the effort came as a result of some farmers claiming the form is too complicated. The equivocation came at the dismay of Tax Director Ryan Kamrowski, who is rightly trying to do his job.
There is blame – and hypocrisy – to go around. Farm families who are rightfully exempt receive county services subsidized by non-farm families. Shouldn’t there be a degree of supervision? Kamrowski said there is no way to determine entitlement without a verification process.
Secondly, did the county commission instruct staff to maybe look at the verification systems being employed by other counties? Are they using the same state-produced form that is so vexing here? Did they come up with a better system? Did anyone think to check?
Next, while it is understandable that a state-produced document can be arcane in nature, it is also bordering on absurd to think that farmers are unable to complete an income statement form. This isn’t the era of oxen-pulled plows. Farm taxes are complicated, so someone is doing them – whether an accountant or a farmer with tax software on his computer. Kamrowski asserted that he is available to answer questions. Isn’t it just a tad condescending to assert that an entire profession can’t handle documentation to justify their county services being subsidized by their non-farming neighbors?
This situation was clearly not thought out in advance, which is all too common with the county commission. There is disparity here in that the commission is confident spending money to alter weather conditions in Ward County, but can’t be bothered to have a look at a new form to make sure constituents can fill it out.
Eventually, the professionals with the county will probably get this process back on track, thus making farmers’ lives easier and showing respect to the taxpayers. Those things should not have to be done retroactively however.
One wonders how long it will take until members of the public tire of county antics and, as a group of Minot residents did in terms of municipal government, demand wholesale change, new faces and the advent of competence and conviction.