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A “thank you” to our public officials

By Staff | Dec 5, 2008

Lately, it seems like it has either been our city council, county commissioners, our mayor, or some other public officials caught up in some type of controversy on an issue. Maybe it’s not any different from any other city around. They all get faced with dealing with different problems. They are having to make decisions on issues that are certainly hot buttons.

No matter which public officials we are talking about, I’m not in favor of never questioning their decisions. We all need our own watchdogs, so to speak. But many times we really need to have sat in their seats to have a clearer view of what the whole picture is. Whatever the controversy, we all need to have common sense about the discussion. I hope that it’s still the way we do things in rural North Dakota.

Not only at this time of year but year round, we all have something to be thankful for. One of the things that I have realized lately is that I am very thankful for all of the people who are public servants in our city and county. People who are willing to put themselves in the front firing line of criticism, anger and praise. Yes, we can argue that they put themselves in that position; they get paid to do that job. I don’t know anyone who gets paid enough to put themselves through the mental and emotional abuse that we sometimes put them through. Many of them have other main jobs to support their families. I can very easily feel that there would be many times they would think, “Why do I want to put myself or my family through this?”

On that note, I just want to say that I am very thankful that we have people who have stood up to the task. I’m not sure I would want to deal with all the controversies. To all of you, I say, “Thank you” for taking care of my problems for me. Hang in there. Not many people would want to take on the responsibility that these jobs require.

Jelsing is a Rugby resident.

More thoughts on city’s ownership of property

By Deidre L. Godycki

I feel compelled to write again for publication in the Tribune. The issue that I feel compelled to write about is what it will really cost the Rugby City Property Owner for this street project and why it seems our taxes are so high.

First – why it seems our taxes are so high. Some time ago, I personally went to the County Treasurer and the Auditor to determine what percentage of the City of Rugby is owned by either the City (and it’s subsidiaries such as the Economic Development Authority, the JDA, The Park District, etc), the County, or the State. By square foot calculations, and using a very conservative estimate, I came to a number close to 40 percent for property owned by the City of Rugby. Let’s be even more conservative and call it 35 percent.

While at the County Treasurer’s office today, I requested a copy of the tax bill going to the City of Rugby for it’s properties. I was told, at that time, that the City of Rugby does not pay any taxes on property it owns in the City of Rugby.

So, if 35 percent of the City of Rugby property is owned by the City, then the 65% of the private property owners are shouldering 100 percent of the tax bill. That’s a lot of extra taxes to be shouldering.

It would be a service to the private taxpaying citizens of this City for the City Council to review all of it’s owned properties and see what they can do to get these properties sold and off the books into private taxpayers hands. That would certainly lower the rest of our taxes and it would be beneficial to the City to do so.

Why not have an absolute auction on City-owned property and sell the City-owned property for whatever is bid. Isn’t it better to have these properties on the tax rolls rather than over-taxing the remaining property owners? Any non-essential properties (properties that are not currently being used by the City) should be sold as soon as possible. There is absolutely no reason for the City of Rugby to own 35% of all the property within its limits.

Second – More Special Assessment Information. From review various documents and Attorney General’s opinions, it seems that City Property is not exempt from Special Assessments. So, let’s do some numbers.

The project, as originally discussed was to cost 5.5 million dollars. As of the last council meeting, the Engineer indicated he’s got it down to 5.0 million dollars. The private property owners make up about 65 percent of the assessment group, the City making up the remaining 35 percent.

In order to cover the costs of the Special Assessments, the City will need to increase the mill levy to cover the costs. The increased mill levy actually becomes Taxes. So, the private property owners will see a direct assessment of $3,250,000. The City will see an assessment of $1,750,000.

Now, since the City doesn’t pay property taxes to itself, that means that an additional $1,750,000 will need to be split up amongst the 65% of the private property owners.

Let’s do a few more numbers. Let’s say that there are 1600 total properties in the City of Rugby. 65 percent of these are privately owned giving a number of privately owned properties as 1,040. The remaining 560 properties are non-taxes city-owned properties.

While the special assessment MAY go by front footage, but could go by square foot, or any number of different calculations, let’s just call it a per property tax.

On a per property basis, you have 1,040 properties paying for $3,250,000 of the assessment giving a direct assessment of $3,125 per property for the Street Project.

Then, we have the remaining $1,750,000 special assessment against the City-owned properties. Since the City pays no property tax, then the 1,040 privately owned properties will have to pay this as a tax. This tax will amount to $1,683.

So, while the direct special assessment would be about $3,000 per privately owned property, there will be an additional $1,600 in taxes that will need to be paid.

That just plain doesn’t seem right – does it? Not only will I have to pay the assessment, but I will have to pay half-again as much in taxes for the City’s share.

If the City were to liquidate it’s non-essential properties to private citizens – even for $1.00, it’s tax base increases, the spread of special assessments can be broader, and the private property owners may actually get to hold on to their homes.

Third – What really are the City’s Assets? My husband asked the City Auditor for a list of City-owned properties. We were told by the City Attorney that it would take much too much time to compile this list; therefore, it would not be provided.

When at City Hall to pick up some documents, I asked to review the documents on the current Assets of the City. You see, one of the City Auditor’s jobs is to keep a list of all Assets of the City (that’s actually part of the Laws of the State of North Dakota). At this time, I was told there was an Asset Report. At the same time, I was told that the City Auditor HAD to be there when these records were reviewed. I asked if it was something the Deputy Auditor could do and she replied No. Isn’t this the job of a Deputy Auditor?

Today, my husband and I went to City Hall to review these records. Inside a folder indicating Properties in the City, there were easements, property sales papers, as well as property purchase papers. And, no records at all for the last few years. Other folders contained numerous documents that didn’t apply to the folder’s descriptions at all. This was obviously a waste of time because the files were clearly outdated and had not been properly maintained for quite a few years.

I asked the City Auditor about this Asset Report she had indicated. She held up a stack of papers and indicated that this was something an outside company had compiled and this had not been updated since 2004. The City Auditor also indicated that when there was the time and the personnel to do so that the listing would be updated.

These questions really beg to be asked: Why are we paying a Deputy Auditor who is supposed to be able to be the City Auditor’s backup if the Deputy Auditor cannot or is not allowed to do what the City Auditor is supposed to do? What exactly are the City Auditor and the Deputy Auditor doing that they cannot keep files updated and straight and can’t keep the list of the City’s Assets up to date?

In conclusion, I would suggest to every citizen in the City of Rugby, call your councilmen and ask :

1. Why does the City own so much property? What is the purpose? What is the reasoning?

2. Why doesn’t the City sell the property at any price? At least the City would then be able to collect current taxes and special assessments and spread the taxes and costs of special assessments against a larger portion of owners thus reducing the overall burden to a much smaller group of people.

3. Why isn’t the Council insisting that the City Auditor keep the books and records up to date? This is a basic function of an Auditor and should be done as the highest priority. This information should be timely, accurate, and immediately available to anyone who requests it.

Godycki is a property owner in the city of Rugby.

Senior Meals program needs users and donors

By Myrna Muffenbier

I wish to address the need for Senior Meals in our community. The program was started in November 1980, and I have been employed as director since July 1981.

The Senior Meals program focuses on nutrition for our consumers and abides with mandated menus as released by USDA for older adults. All our meals are planned by registered dieticians and meet the standards, as required. The senior meals menus are prepared to provide you with a balance of nutrients essential for prevention and health promotion to delay onset of adverse health conditions.

The purposes of nutrition services are:

–to reduce hunger and food insecurity

–to promote socialization of older individuals

–to promote health and well-being for other adults

Our program is not funded by county Social Services. We cannot mandate a means test to determine your financial resources. All our meals are provided on a confidential donation. Food stamps are accepted. We receive approximately 45 percent of our total budget from the Older Americans Act of 1960. The balance needs to be met by donations, fundraisers, memorials, and a senior mill levy.

Many of our elderly are on fixed incomes and cannot meet the suggested donation. We look for resources from local friends such as you.

Please understand all donations received locally are targeted for meals in our community and county.

Senior Meals are provided five days a week at our local senior center (776-2240). All persons age 60 and older are encouraged to attend and support the continuation of the Senior Meals program.

Please do not wait until you need home-delivered meals. Now is the time to enjoy the friendships and socialization at our senior center.

Muffenbier is director of Tri-County Senior Meals and Services.

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