The chickens are coming home to roost.
For too many years, we have relied too much on sales tax revenues, and pretended that we could meet the city's needs by keeping the mill levy artificially low. With the downturn in our state's economy, sales tax receipts have plummeted.
Despite frequent complaints about how high property taxes are, when you figure in special assessments – which most cities rely on to a far greater extent – our overall local property tax rate is actually fairly low: Minot, 120 (mill equivalents); Bismarck, 125; Grand Forks, 140; and West Fargo, 157. Our property taxes are indeed higher, but our special assessment burden is significantly lower, leading to a pretty good overall rate.
I would suggest the following: be honest and realistic with citizens; work much harder to become more efficient and effective in delivering services; fund critical city needs through property tax, with sales tax directed to special projects (e.g., flood control) and discretionary spending (e.g., economic development); stop throwing away money (e.g., reduce staff turnover); defer capital improvement projects as much as possible; and prioritize needs.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for.
— Stephan Podrygula