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Cass County rejects $2.7M tax value cut on West Fargo mansion

Cass County commissioners Rick Steen and Mary Scherling suggested they could reconsider if stronger evidence were presented.

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The owners of this mansion on south Sheyenne Street in West Fargo are seeking a reduction in its valuation for tax purposes.
David Samson / The Forum
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WEST FARGO — Cass County commissioners rejected a cut in the valuation of a West Fargo mansion on Monday, June 20, but noted they could reconsider after examining more documents.

That leaves the door open to a possible reduction in the $6.1-million valuation placed on the home owned by one of Fargo's major company executives who recently sold his business.

The valuation is used to determine property taxes.

At $6.1 million, lawyer Tami Norgard told commissioners, it would be the highest valued home in the state. On behalf of the owners, she argued that the value should be dropped to $3.4 million.

Norgard, of the Vogel Law Firm, was given another chance Monday to argue the case for Mike Chambers' home, the ownership of which is registered to a limited liability company called Tevye.

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The law firm has been representing Tevye and refused to publicly reveal who owns the company. However, in documents obtained by The Forum and at a public meeting before the West Fargo City Commission, it was noted the home belonged to Chambers.

Last year, he and his business partner sold Aldevron, a biotechnology company, for $9.6 billion. Chambers remains involved in the company's operations.

It's common for city and county boards to keep valuations as suggested by its assessors or the county equalization department, and they rarely deviate from those property valuations.

It was noted that if the valuation isn't decreased this week by the county, it can go before the state tax commissioner's office for a possible reduction later this summer.

Norgard appealed to commissioners for more than an hour Monday, citing "remarkably different" valuations from that of the county and those done by "local and respected appraisers in the industry."

She said state law requires the valuation to be determined by the market value, not what it cost to build the property.

The home, the most expensive in West Fargo, does not have any comparable sales, making a determination difficult, the parties agreed.

That led Commissioner Chad Peterson to ask if there was a bank loan to look at to help determine the property's value.

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County Director of Equalization Paul Fracassi said there was not.

Peterson then asked Norgard if the owners would sell the house surrounded by trees on the south end of Sheyenne Street for $3.4 million.

She did not have an answer.

The commissioners, who were acting as the county's board of equalization, also objected to three of the "comparable" property valuations submitted by the appraisers.

Fracassi had told the board he did not think the use of those sales was fair, as he pointed to errors.

He said he reviewed the valuations of other high-quality homes in West Fargo, and it showed the city was grading them equitably. He said he didn't favor the 55% reduction sought for Chambers' home.

"I just can't make an educated decision," Peterson said when it came down to a vote. "It's probably not worth $6.4 million, but we can't just pick a number."

Commissioners Rick Steen and Mary Scherling suggested they could reconsider if stronger evidence were presented.

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"What's the real number?" Steen asked, agreeing with Peterson that they could not simply pick a reduced value.

Meanwhile, Fracassi and West Fargo Assessor Nick Lee said they planned to reexamine another batch of documents submitted by Norgard to see if there was anything that may change their minds.

If there is, they could hold a special meeting, but otherwise the case is likely headed for a decision by the state.

The commissioners also unanimously rejected a request from a neighbor to the north where an older home was knocked down on an 8-acre parcel of land and a new high-quality home is built.

Owner Deanne Schatz wanted the value reduced from $2.6 million to $2.1 million.

The size of the lot was a factor in the increased valuation, Lee said. Norgard, who was also representing Schatz, called the increase in value of about $680,000 in one year "crazy."

For 2022 valuations, Lee said, the city conducted a citywide analysis of residential and commercial land values to keep up with the market, and all properties were adjusted.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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