BISMARCK (AP) - North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, whose oil-rich state boasts a near $1 billion budget surplus and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, announced Tuesday a task force to study permanent property tax reform.
Dalrymple, who formed the 14-member group by executive order, said North Dakota has had about $1.5 billion in local property tax reductions since 2009. The governor, speaking at the state Capitol, said it's been a period of historic tax relief but now is the time for "lasting property tax reform."
North Dakota's property tax system can be simplified and improved, which will result in savings for taxpayers, he said.
"There is a lot of room for improvement in making this a system people can comprehend," Dalrymple said.
Property tax in North Dakota is assessed based on the estimated value of property. North Dakota's robust economy has spurred rising property values, often leading to increased local tax collections.
Displeased with high property taxes, some put together a citizen initiative to abolish them and require the Legislature to provide replacement money to local governments. The measure was defeated, with more than 75 percent of voters rejecting it.
Backers of the measure had argued state and local governments granted frequent property tax exemptions, which forced other taxpayers to make up the difference.
Dalrymple said the group he announced Tuesday will address property tax increases and "shed light on the many authorizations that are granted to local taxing authorities."
EIiminating property taxes in North Dakota won't be considered, Dalrymple said.
"I don't see a world in which we have no property taxes," he said.
Members of the group include Deputy State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger; and the chairmen of the Senate and House taxation committees, Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, and Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo. Auditors from McKenzie and Cass counties and Bismarck's city manager also are on the panel, along with home and commercial property owners and a property tax payer who represents agriculture.
Rauschenberger, who will replace Tax Commissioner Cory Fong next month, said his agency "will provide technical support and assistance" to the new task force, which must produce a report and make recommendations on property tax reform by the time the Legislature reconvenes in 2015.
The task force is slated to hold its first meeting Friday.