The Burleigh County Courthouse is located in downtown Bismarck on Thayer Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets.

The Burleigh County Commission is considering a 13% increase in property taxes for 2020. The Bismarck Tribune editorial board believes that’s too steep and would be difficult to handle for many residents.

A public hearing for the final budget has been scheduled for Sept. 18, and we would expect a strong turnout by residents who oppose the increase. Higher taxes have been at the forefront of citizen complaints over recent years. The Legislature has tried to help but hasn’t found a lasting solution.

Commissioner Mark Armstrong argued the proposed increase would offset a 13.4% property tax reduction in 2018. “To explain to taxpayers, if you look over two years, you broke even,” he said.

Taxpayers aren’t looking to break even, they are looking for relief. The proposed 13% doesn’t include what the Bismarck School District, park board and other entities might seek. So the final impact on Burleigh residents could be higher than 13%.

Residents might accept an increase in taxes, but a two-digit boost seems extreme. How many residents, also known as voters, received raises, let alone double-digit raises? There’s probably a good number who received no pay increases. And there’s a large segment of Burleigh County on fixed incomes.

Clyde Thompson, Burleigh County finance director, said the county needs to raise property taxes because tax relief approved by the Legislature in 2017 that prompted property tax relief the last two years has ended.

County commissioners and city commissioners across the state should have anticipated the possibility of state relief ending. There should be no local or state official unaware of taxpayer unhappiness with taxes, especially property taxes. They should remember the voter effort to abolish property taxes in the state.

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The measure failed, but the defeat was fueled by a coordinated effort of doom and gloom.

Burleigh commissioners need to do more than explain the need for higher taxes on Sept. 18. They need to be able to convince residents of the need for an increase. They also need to be able to give residents an idea of what other entities will be asking for in 2020.

While residents have seen some tax relief in the last two years, they have also seen their valuations increase. That’s offset the relief intended by the Legislature.

It’s hard to comprehend that the commissioners were considering a 23.5% increase, which is what they said at last week’s meeting. That would have been outrageous. If they just said it in an effort to downplay the 13% proposal, it’s lousy tactics.

The commission needs to be ready in September to persuade voters of the necessity of a 13% increase. We doubt they can do it.

Editor's note: This editorial was updated. An earlier version misidentified the commissioner who said, “To explain to taxpayers, if you look over two years, you broke even.” That statement was made by Mark Armstrong, not Jim Peluso. 

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