City Commission reviews assessments and hears abatements

The Langdon City Commission met to a full house and full agenda as the commissioners addressed abatement requests and discussed new options for the water. 


Posted on 4/18/15

By Melissa Anderson

The commissioners received three abatement requests from Austin Lafrenz, Lisa Jacobson, and Devon Johnson. Mel Carsen, the Langdon City Assessor, was present to answer questions and give recommendations based on his reassessment of the properties in questions.

Carsen, who stated that he only works part-time for the city doing assessing work, explained to the individuals and the commission that the selling prices of the Langdon create the benchmark on which the assessments are based. Many homes in Langdon are not within the necessary range of assessed value to be in compliance with the state statutes.

The assessments must be within 90 percent of the selling price. With many properties selling for well above their currently assessed values, other property owners are feeling the effects of the skyrocketing housing prices in Langdon.

The individuals who requested an abatement did not receive the re-assessed value of their homes prior to the meeting due to a clerical error of the City Auditor.

The individuals felt that their assessments were overinflated and that the basis on which they were being assessed was unfair.

“If house A is reassessed in 2013 and pays that year, then house B is assessed in 2014 and pays that year, then house C is assessed and pays in 2015, how is it fair to B and A when they have been paying for one and two years more in higher taxes than house C?” Lisa Jacobson stated.

The commissioners approved all of the abatements, which reduced the taxable value of the properties from about $4,000 to $10,000. The abatements will now move forward to the Cavalier County Commission where they will be reviewed and either approved, rejected, or changed entirely.

In research conducted by the Cavalier County Republican, the City of Langdon, which the commissioners were made aware of by Cavalier County Tax Director Pam Lafrenz, is in violation of three North Dakota Century Codes: NDCC 57-11-01, NDCC 57-11-02, and NDCC 57-02-34.

NDCC 57-11-01 states that the city board of equalization shall meet on the second Tuesday in April. Century Code does not allow for the city board meeting to be held at anytime during the month of May. The meeting may deviate from the second Tuesday in April only in the event that the assessor has two or more jurisdictions to perform meetings for, however, the  meetings must still be performed in the month of April.

NDCC 57-11-02 outlines the duties of the city auditor pertaining to keeping accurate records during the city equalization process and must return those equalized assessments to the county auditor with the city auditor’s certificate within 10 days of the completion of the equalization process.

NDCC 57-02-34 states that the assessor shall perform the duties required of the office during the 12 month period prior to April 1. After April 1, there should not be any alteration of values in the assessment book.

Cavalier County Tax Director Pam Lafrenz informed the city commission that she had contacted two companies that perform assessments for cities that could complete the assessments in total in a few weeks rather than what has been occurring over the course of the last few years.

“It would be assessed immediately versus what is happening,” Lafrenz stated.

According to Dustin Bakken, a Property Tax Specialist in the Office of the State Tax Commissioner, all residential and commercial properties are assessed at market value or “true and full value”. When the assessors determine the value of homes, they compare the sales price to the assessed value and create a ratio which is used for the whole city. The city must be within 90 percent of the median sales price of homes.

What this means is that if 10 homes are sold over the course of a year ranging in price from $50,000 to $100,000, the median price is $75,000, and all homes within the city must be assessed at a minimum of $67,500.

Bakken explained that the way homes are assessed is a combination of a few things but can be conducted in one of three ways. One way is the cost approach where the assessor looks at the grade of the house. A grade is given to the home based on the condition of the house, the materials used in the construction of the house, and the size of the property.

Another method would be the comparison of a recently sold home to a similar home. For instance, if a ranch style house sold within the time frame allotted, it could be used as a basis for comparison for a ranch style house similar in size and condition for an assessment value.

The final method is used mostly for commercial properties, and it uses income as the basis for assessment.

Bakken addressed the issue of assessments and changes made to assessments after April 1.

“The city should not be making any adjustments to values after April 1,” Bakken stated.

Any assessments and/or changes to assessments after April 1 must be submitted to the county equalization board for review. The city board for equalization must hold a meeting to hear appeals and complaints but can take no action on them. The county board of equalization, upon reviewing the information, must notify the city and the property holder in writing of any changes made.

“The city should be responsible for setting up the statutory date, but the county board is the authority to oversee the equalization,” Bakken stated.

According to Bakken, it is the responsibility of the city board of equalization to hold itself accountable and should they fail to do so, it falls to the county equalization board to monitor what is going on.

For residents to file complaints, according to Bakken, they must first go the city board of equalization then to the county board of equalization.

“If that isn’t satisfactory, they can appeal to the State Board of Equalization,” Bakken stated.