Breaking down Bismarck’s possible 30% tax hike

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 6:11 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Residents of Bismarck could be looking at a 30% property tax increase in 2021 according to a report given to the City Commission on Tuesday, and the issue might not be easy to fix.

In an effort of transparency the City Commission is holding some of their preliminary budget talks as part of their regular commission meetings.

Sticker shock hit commissioners when they heard the potential property tax increase that might be required in 2021.

“I’m just gonna lay it on the table, I’m not going to support a 20 mill increase. So we have to go back, and find either some equipment or something that we’re not going to buy,” said Greg Zenker, commissioner.

To break that down the city currently collects about 59 mills, so a 19 mill increase is about a third more, and there might not be room to cut.

“There’s no fluff. As commissioner Zenker and you guys have looked through it there is no fluff. This is to sustain,” said Commissioner Steve Marquardt, Bismarck.

City staff say the problem has been building in recent years.

“The revenues are on the blue line are not growing as fast as the expenditures are. Essentially over the course of the last five years,” said Dimitriy Chernyak, finance.

Commissioners admitted to “running lean” in recent years and kicking the can down the road on expenditures. The roads and street department made a roster of replacement vehicles and equipment they need and then cut it back to a critical needs list.

The revision still carries a more than million dollar price tag to replace more than 20-year-old street maintenance vehicles.

“You don’t drive 20-year-old vehicles. There’s no reason for that. Absolutely none,” said Zenker. So it comes down to a 19 mill increase, or $8 million. The increase is potentially 30 percent higher than what Bismarck landowners saw last year. 

For a household worth $200,000 that equals about $171 per year increase. Commissioners directed staff to look at ways to spread the costs out over the next few years to ease the burden.

The preliminary budget needs to be finalized by Aug. 4. So residents will see it again at the next city meeting.

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