Candidate Questionnaire: The Property Tax Hero?

Minot City Council Candidates

The Question:

Suspend reality for a moment. Instead of the office you are seeking, imagine you are elected Dictator of Minot for a 15-year term. You have supreme executive authority and no checks and balances on your power. At the end of your term, your fate hinges on whether property taxes, adjusted for inflation, are lower, equal, or higher than when you took office. If they’re lower, you become the hero of Minot and remain in power; if the same or higher, you’ll be tarred, feathered, and run out of town. There are conditions to your work though:

  1. You cannot cut any existing services, and government costs will grow by 2.5% annually.
  2. You cannot add new local sales tax or shift any of your current costs to sales tax.

What three to five policies would you implement to avoid that hot, shameful walk out of town?

About the Question

This question was highly contrived. The hope was to give candidates a prompt that brought forth concrete policy solutions with regards to reducing property tax burdens rather than the platitudes that are common in political campaigning. Further, it required imagination and a willingness to think less orthodoxically. Both could be seen as desirable traits in elected leaders.

Mike Blessum

My first initiative would be to require that budget sections with direct property tax levies (airport, cemetery, public transportation, and the library) make immediate changes to fees and costs to become self sufficient and eliminate the associated levies. Doing this alone would reduce the property tax levy by about 6% going forward. I believe in this general concept even without being dictator, but look at it as a gradual goal to work toward with the understanding that getting fully there may not be achievable for all of those budget sections.

Second, we need to change our budgeting practices that are leading to levies that are higher than is needed by the reality of our current situation. As an example, we are currently charging the taxpayers for 58 police officers when we only employ 45. That is a difference of somewhere in the range of $1.4 million per year for officers we have no real expectation of hiring in the current climate. We need to eliminate this practice throughout the budget process by using actual spending as our baseline for the budget rather than the prior year budget. This is a real initiative I intend to advocate for in the upcoming budget cycle.

Third, I would evaluate how we have grown from 327 city employees in 2012 to 460 today. We have grown city staff by about 41% while the population of the city has grown just 9% and is actually slightly shrinking recently. This incredible growth in the size of our local government needs to be evaluated to determine whether there are any decisions that can be reversed to better match the needs of the city to the level of taxation required.

Finally – because we are looking at just beating inflation, we should expect to be able to lower property taxes over time on an inflation adjusted basis because government is only growing at 2.5% in the example. My expectation for the next 15 years is that inflation will outpace that number significantly. We just need to avoid adding new pet projects that put strains on the budget unnecessarily and focus on the fundamental services that only government can provide for our residents.

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Scott Burlingame

  1. Incentivize Housing Development: The number one driver of the increase in Property Tax is increased property values. We must build more housing to serve people of all income levels. Develop public-private partnerships to increase the supply of affordable housing, reducing housing costs and encouraging population growth. By doing so, we will bring additional properties into the market and allow the free market to slow the increase in housing costs. The decreased housing costs will help to attract and keep workforce in our City, thus solving our workforce shortage and spurring local economic activity.
  2. Smart Growth: Prioritizing smart growth is economically conservative. By focusing on developing within our current footprint, we can maximize existing infrastructure and minimize the need for expensive new developments. This approach will reduce long- term costs and ensure that taxpayer money is used efficiently. Continue efforts to revitalize downtown Minot with mixed-use developments that attract residents and businesses, increasing the tax base. Use public funds strategically to improve infrastructure, making Minot more attractive for residents and businesses.
  3. Economic Development and Diversification: We first have to improve our economy by solving our local workforce shortage issues. If we can make Minot a City people choose to live in, we can spur economic development. We can use our current economic development funds to invest in childcare infrastructure. By making childcare more accessible and affordable, we enable more parents to join the workforce, boosting our local economy. We can also provide grants, tax incentives, and support programs for local entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in Minot. Finally, we can expand tourism. We can develop Minot as a tourist destination by enhancing cultural attractions, promoting events, and improving infrastructure for visitors.

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Leif Snyder

Well I had no idea citizens or elected officials of Minot could suspend reality when it comes to property taxes in Minot!  This is probably the weirdest question i have been asked since deciding to run but i will use reality to answer it.

I will not vote to give tax abatements to certain favorite developers of the Chamber EDC like Epic or others.  A tax abatement or TIF is a condition of we will not collect property taxes in exchange for x.  Take for instance theTIF at the Tracks, the phase oneTIF was voted on by council and approved 7 to 0.  How it works is the plaza at the Tracks is accessed as a wheat field before construction and for 5 years taxes are frozen at wheat field levels. The plaza is still assessed and the normal taxes they would pay do to the improvements they get to put back into the property instead of paying those tax dollars into the City’s general fund for things like police/fire/roads, so others have to make up the shortfall.  Now the arguments in favor of tif’s is a short term loss in exchange for a long term gain or more tax revenue collected over the long term.  Here lies the problem….Blake Nybakken numbers show a break even point around year 28!  Yes that is right, Epic’s own numbers they presented said more tax revenue was not realized until year 28 so why even do it? If I only get to be dictator for 15 years why would I agree to policy that a 60 year old home owner only gets to see the benefit of more tax revenue collected when they turn 88 years old!  And thats real, not suspended reality!

Because its such a bad mistake, policy number 2 will be to not support Phase 2 Tif at the Tracks simply because i think money intended for the general fund should be spent on police/fire/roads and not a PARKING GARAGE FOR EPIC!

Policy 3 Will be to better align and train the HR Department in order to save money and lesson turnover amongst City of Minot Employees.  While I had prior knowledge of some of the problems facing the more than 460 city employees, the budget tours also opened my eyes to problems.  For instance the HR Department is mostly doing payroll and real HR problems are not being addressed and that results in a questionable working environment for some.  

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Stephan Podrygula

The key to maintaining government services and yet not increasing taxes is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of what we do, particularly in terms of empowering our staff to work more effectively.

Specific policies would include the following: providing incentives for staff (and citizens) who come up with money-saving ideas and ways of improving city services; developing a management training program, to improve the skills of all supervisors (ranging from team leads to department heads); making better use of technology (e.g., to improve productivity); and ensuring that fees for services match the actual costs of delivering them (rather than passing shortfalls on to the general tax load).

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Scott Samuelson

This candidate did not provide a response.

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Rob Fuller

Given the constraints of maintaining existing services, managing annual cost growth, and avoiding new local sales taxes, here are five policies I would implement to ensure property taxes in Minot are lower at the end of my 15-year term:

Economic Growth and Diversification Policy:
Aggressively promote economic growth and diversification by attracting new businesses and industries to Minot.

Implementation:

  • Offer targeted incentives for businesses in sectors like technology, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing to set up operations in Minot.
  • Create a streamlined permitting and regulatory environment to make it easier for businesses to start and expand.
  • Partner with Minot State and vocational training institutions to develop workforce training programs tailored to the needs of these new industries.

Impact: A diversified and growing economy will increase the commercial property tax base, spreading the tax burden more widely and reducing reliance on residential property taxes.

Efficiency and Innovation in Government Operations Policy:
Implement continuous improvement and technological innovation in government operations to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Implementation:

  • Conduct regular audits of all city departments to identify inefficiencies and areas for cost savings.
  • Invest in technology and data analytics to streamline processes, reduce waste, and improve service delivery.
  • Encourage a culture of innovation among city employees, with incentives for cost-saving ideas and improvements.
  • Get rid of the consultants.

Impact: Improved efficiency in government operations can help manage the annual cost growth and minimize the need for property tax increases.

Maximize Revenue from Non-Tax Sources Policy:
Increase revenue from non-tax sources such as fees, grants, and public asset management.

Implementation:

  • Review and adjust fees for city services to ensure they reflect the actual cost of providing those services. We could look at fees for the airport, landfill, library and other entities that currently are funded solely by property tax dollars.
  • Actively pursue state and federal grants (grants that don’t require the city to pony up any money), as well as private donations, to fund specific projects and initiatives.

Impact: By generating additional revenue from non-tax sources, the city can offset some of the costs and reduce the reliance on property taxes.

Promote Infill Development and Smart Growth Policy:
Encourage infill development and smart growth practices to maximize the use of existing infrastructure and reduce the need for costly new developments.

Implementation:

  • Offer incentives for developers to build on vacant or underutilized land within the city limits. (other than TIF funding)
  • Update zoning regulations to support higher-density and mixed-use developments in appropriate areas.
  • Promote sustainable development practices that reduce long-term infrastructure and service costs.

Impact: Infill development and smart growth can increase the property tax base without significantly increasing the demand for new infrastructure and services, helping to keep property taxes low.

By implementing these policies, I would aim to foster economic growth, increase efficiency, and diversify revenue sources, ultimately ensuring that property taxes in Minot are lower at the end of my 15-year term.

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Mike Gietzen

This candidate did not provide a response.

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Minot Public School Board Candidates

The Question:

Suspend reality for a moment. Instead of the office you are seeking, imagine you are elected Dictator of Minot for a 15-year term. You have supreme executive authority and no checks and balances on your power. At the end of your term, your fate hinges on whether property taxes, adjusted for inflation, are lower, equal, or higher than when you took office. If they’re lower, you become the hero of Minot and remain in power; if the same or higher, you’ll be tarred, feathered, and run out of town. There are conditions to your work though:

  1. You cannot cut any existing services, and government costs will grow by 2.5% annually.
  2. You cannot add new local sales tax or shift any of your current costs to sales tax.

What three to five policies would you implement to avoid that hot, shameful walk out of town?

About the Question

This question was highly contrived. The hope was to give candidates a prompt that brought forth concrete policy solutions with regards to reducing property tax burdens rather than the platitudes that are common in political campaigning. Further, it required imagination and a willingness to think less orthodoxically. Both could be seen as desirable traits in elected leaders.

Scott Louser

I will relate this question specifically to the school board rather than to city council, county commission or park board. I have prepared a bill draft as a legislator for the next session beginning in January or 2025 and have been discussing with key legislators and constituent groups around North Dakota. The bill draft as it relates to the above question has two elements which include the state buying out the state mandated 60 mills dedicated to K12 education currently levied against property tax values. That responsibility would reduce the education portion of Minot taxpayers by approximately 46% and come at a cost to the state of approximately $675M per biennium. Part two of that bill would cap other local political subdivisions at a 3% growth per year (open to changing that to some index to adjust for inflation). The purpose would be full property tax reform. Within the school district, we can implement open enrollment again into Minot Public to encourage more students to enroll locally that are currently in other districts. We can partner with the MAFB school board to help with the final costs of the new Minot North High School, we could open negotiations with the health insurance provider for RFPs from them and their competitors to save employer related costs for our insurance policies and we can prepare contract negotiations for employees in the next cycle without using reserve funds or increasing property taxes. A final policy would be to have the legislature set up a fund whereby school construction loans could be created for new construction and most importantly, to be refinanced at a 2% rate. When the MPS bonds come callable, we could refinance the balance and save substantial amounts in current structure for the taxpayers of Minot.

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Michael Gessner

Mr. Gessner did not provide a response to this question.

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Bill Irmen

I’d like to preface my response by saying that I’m not comfortable with a scenario, even a rhetorical one, that imagines a dictator in the United States or the brushing aside of checks and balances, especially in the times in which we live.  I will entertain that I have been elected to a position of leadership in Minot for this question, but I don’t think we would have to go to such a drastic measure as abolishing democracy to generate revenue for the city without raising taxes or cutting services.  The first thing I would do is to build a multi-function community recreation center.  Citizens of Minot of all ages could come there to exercise, work out, swim, take fitness classes, and play team sports like basketball, volleyball, etc.  This would generate revenue for the city while creating jobs, creating healthy competition with other facilities like the YMCA, and providing recreation and healthy opportunities for our citizens.  More importantly, we could host tournaments, both youth and adult, drawing people to Minot.  While here, they will spend money on hotels, restaurants, gas, and shopping in general.  I would also partner with our school district to host sports tournaments as well as academic competitions for this same reason.  We’ll add a water park next to it as an additional draw.  Next I would entice businesses like Costco, Sam’s Club, and Amazon to locate in Minot.  This will not only create high-paying jobs, but it will entice people from the surrounding area and Canada to make Minot a shopping destination, benefiting not just these businesses but also the hospitality industry as mentioned before.   I would also like to see Minot as a technology hub, incentivizing forward-looking companies specializing in the making of computer chips and batteries to locate here, creating partnerships with MPS and Minot State University to train the workforce who would do these jobs.  If I do not accomplish these goals, I will step down voluntarily, no need to warm up the pitch.

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John Carey

While I appreciate the offer to participate in this candidate questionnaire sent to me by “TheMinotVoice”, I have respectively declined because I do not feel that answering hypothetical questions is helpful in addressing and solving our current problems. My positions and opinions on certain topics are based on the real world issues we’re currently facing in our school district. Thank you John Carey

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KayLee Bourquin

This candidate did not provide a response.

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Darrik Trudell

This candidate did not provide a response.

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Lacey Laudenschlager

If I became Dictator, the first thing I’d do is revert back to a democracy and shorten the term. I’m not an expert on economics or government policy and would look to the best and brightest around me as a guide on how to proceed. I know that a system without checks and balances is a recipe for failure and I believe a good leader knows when to ask for help on things they don’t know well. We also need to be able to remove someone from office if they aren’t doing a good job.

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Minot Park Board Candidates

The Question:

Suspend reality for a moment. Instead of the office you are seeking, imagine you are elected Dictator of Minot for a 15-year term. You have supreme executive authority and no checks and balances on your power. At the end of your term, your fate hinges on whether property taxes, adjusted for inflation, are lower, equal, or higher than when you took office. If they’re lower, you become the hero of Minot and remain in power; if the same or higher, you’ll be tarred, feathered, and run out of town. There are conditions to your work though:

  1. You cannot cut any existing services, and government costs will grow by 2.5% annually.
  2. You cannot add new local sales tax or shift any of your current costs to sales tax.

What three to five policies would you implement to avoid that hot, shameful walk out of town?

About the Question

This question was highly contrived. The hope was to give candidates a prompt that brought forth concrete policy solutions with regards to reducing property tax burdens rather than the platitudes that are common in political campaigning. Further, it required imagination and a willingness to think less orthodoxically. Both could be seen as desirable traits in elected leaders.

Chelsea Kirkhammer

Given the constraints and the necessity to maintain or lower property taxes while keeping government costs in check, here are three policies I would consider to ensure fiscal sustainability and economic growth in Minot:

  1. Fiscal Responsibility in Governance
  2. Public-Private Partnerships & Extensive Grant Writing
  3. Economic Diversification and Innovation

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Cliff Hovda

This candidate did not provide a response.

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Deven Mantz

This candidate did not provide a response.

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About our Candidate Questionnaire:
We tried to get our candidates thinking. If you’d like to read the rest of the questions and candidate responses, here you go:

MinotVoice

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