Nelson: Onerous property takes keep climbing in Cass County
"What is the one tax that grows nearly every year, regardless of income?" InForum columnist Ross Nelson ponders. "You get the gilded ball and chain award if you guessed property tax."
“An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.” How right you are, Chief Justice Marshall. There's an indistinct boundary at which no property can survive an ever-escalating tax. The vilest tax of all isn't the income or sales tax; it's the property tax because it has no end and destroys the right to real property.
Having recently retired from 50 years of mostly blue collar work (the director of a retirement seminar I attended jested that he could tell who in the hotel was heading his way because some of us were limping), I've been relieved of much of the usual tax burden. Social Security and Medicare taxes are gone, mostly. Less income means lower income taxes at all levels and less spent on sales tax. But what is the one tax that grows nearly every year, regardless of income? You get the gilded ball and chain award if you guessed property tax.
It's the one tax that never vanishes. You pay sales tax once. You pay taxes on your income and you're done for the year on that amount. But if you want to keep your home, business or real estate, even if they're paid for free and clear, you'll have to pay the government forever. Essentially you're paying rent—you never own your property.
My wife and I just got a notice that our patch on the prairie's assessed value went up $40,000 from 2022 to 2023, for a total $104,000 increase since 2020. Since 2020 our property tax has increased 51%. Mind, there are no “improvements” to the property, just maintenance repairs of an old farm house. We are told that what others are paying in Cass County for their property has made our property more valuable. Good for them, I say, but their wealth should have absolutely no effect on us.
Does anyone see the problem here? The property levy is a sort of unrealized capital gains tax. We (and you) are paying today for a future value that hasn't been, and possibly might never be, realized. The only possible beneficiaries will be either my wife and I if and when we move or our inheritors after we die. In the meantime, to Cass County we're sitting on what it thinks is a small gold mine and should pay accordingly, even if not a single scrap of gold is in our pockets and won't be until our tenure's end, if then.
Since others' wealth directly affects what our property is supposedly worth, imagine this: Bill Gates continues to buy North Dakota farm land, including the land around us, for say, $100,000 an acre. (This isn't pure hyperbole if you saw what Casselton paid for land adjoining its school.) The Cass County Commission rubs its hands together and decides to multiply many times the property tax we must pay. We would be forced out overnight. Indeed, already having been told that we can expect our property tax to increase around 10% yearly, that tax will double in fewer than seven years, and quadruple in 12 to 13 years. That's not counting possible “catch-up” tax boosts we've already experienced. There's no worse tax than this one.
Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page. Email him at email@example.com .
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.