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Bismarck residents to see property tax hike in 2022 under approved budget

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Bismarck resident Tim Fischer, right, spoke to city commissioners about the increase in his property taxes as the commission took public comment on the 2022 budget at Tuesday night's meeting.

Bismarck residents will see almost $4 million in property tax increases in 2022 after the city commission approved a final budget Tuesday.

The budget is the second part of a plan the commission put into place last year to ensure city services are fully funded.

The commission voted 3-2 to pass the budget. Mayor Steve Bakken, Commissioners Nancy Guy and Steve Marquardt voted in favor while Mark Splonskowski and Greg Zenker voted against.

A $240,000 property will see about $126 in new taxes. Residents will see about a 2% increase in water fees and a 5% increase in sewer fees, as well. The utility increases take effect in January.

The 2021 total budget is $238.6 million, and the general fund budget -- funded largely by property and sales taxes -- is about $58 million. The 2022 general fund budget is just over $71 million, and the total budget is $330 million.

The budget focuses on public safety, cybersecurity, a plan to replace aging city equipment, reducing future costs for residents and sustaining existing levels of city services.

Nine residents said they opposed the budget in a public hearing held before the vote, expressing concern about how much their property taxes will increase and about the mayor's vote on the 2021 budget.

Tim Fischer said the city portion of his property tax bill has increased 46% in the past three years. He asked the commission to take a look at the budget and reduce the tax burden on property owners.

Jean Sullivan said taxes in the city are too high and some people can't afford the expense.

"Try to enhance community life as you say in your mission statement and keep our taxes low," Sullivan said. "Reduce something for a change instead of continually increasing and causing more disruption and hardship in our lives."

She told the commissioners after the vote that they should be ashamed of themselves.

Several residents said they voted for Bakken because he ran on a platform of not raising taxes. He voted for the 2021 budget, which included a tax hike. Sullivan took issue with Bakken's vote on the 2022 preliminary budget -- the mayor voted no twice before voting to approve it.

Bakken later responded, saying he voted no on budgets his first two years on the commission, and that he voted in favor last year because the budget process had been fixed.

"I think it's incumbent upon us as the seated commission to fix an issue we had with the finances of the city of Bismarck," the mayor said. "The methodology has been repaired, and it's on a good path moving forward."

He didn't elaborate.

Zenker, who has advocated for taxes to be raised in a more incremental manner, said he has "said from day one" that he doesn't support the budget plan.

"We have to run this thing more as how we would do it with our own money, our own checkbook, than when we use somebody else's," he said.

Last summer, the city's budget committee proposed an $8 million property tax hike to ensure city services were fully funded without dipping into reserves. Commissioners balked at the figure -- with concerns about the coronavirus pandemic's effect on residents' finances -- and instead passed a tax increase of over $4 million with the intent to raise property taxes by approximately the same amount in 2022.

The 2021 budget shortfall was due to a decrease in outside funding because of the pandemic and extra one-time expenses, Finance Director Dmitriy Chernyak said at the time.

Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or sam.nelson@bismarcktribune.com.

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