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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Property tax revolt starts to spread

It’s not just Oslo’s city government that’s been sending out shockingly high property tax bills recently. Many Norwegians living in small communities from north to south have also been hit with notices of much higher property assessments and taxes, and they’re venting their anger against the politicians behind them.

An SAS flight takes off from the airport at Bardufoss (population around 2,500), below some of the towering mountains of Northern Norway. Now a property tax revolt is taking off as well. PHOTO: Wikipedia

In Målselv in Troms County, for example, residents are mounting a protest movement that attracted its first 1,000 supporters overnight this week. It began after they’d received property tax notices showing amounts that were as much as four times last year’s tax bill.

“This is now the main topic of conversation around here,” local homeowner Knut Wingstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “There’s great despair among folks.” Many, he said, saw their annual property tax jump 360 percent, from NOK 5,000-6,000 last year to around NOK 20,000 (USD 2,400) this year.

Wingstad, who launched a petition against the higher property taxes that came with no warning, said he’s had many phone calls from both elderly homeowners and families with small children. “Some are actually worried about losing their homes because they don’t have enough cash to pay such a bill out of the blue,” he said.

Målselv, with a population of less than 7,000, sprawls over 3,000 square kilometers from the Balsfjord in the northwest to the Swedish border in the southeast. It’s known for some spectacular scenery but like many outlying areas around Norway, it has struggled economically and relied on defense spending and military installations around its main town of Bardufoss. Residents have lately been pleading with the defense ministry to retain its main helicopter base in Bardufoss in addition to various battalions and other military activity.

Måselv is a modest community in Northern Norway where property owners are now getting tax bills of as much as NOK 20,000 (USD 2,400). They are not pleased. PHOTO: Wikipedia

It’s a modest community where property values hadn’t been assessed since 2007. New assessments have contributed to the property tax shock while the actual tax rate, stresses local mayor Nils Ove Foshaug of the Labour Party has stayed the same.

“The property assessments had been very uneven and values have increased in 10 years,” Foshaug told NRK in defending the higher tax bills. “With a new assessment, there are some who have received much higher property tax even though the rate has stayed the same.”

He claimed no legal mistakes had been made in the assessment and taxation process, but admitted that “when folks’ taxes double or perhaps go up even more it can seem unreasonable. And yes, we probably should have issued a warning.”

Thousands of residents of Oslo, where the Labour Party also has control of city government and imposed property tax for the first time just last year, have also seen their tax bills double or triple this year. Part of that increase is also based on higher property values, which have skyrocketed in the Norwegian capital, but in Målselv, many residents are contesting their assessments. Wingstad noted that many of the now 1,600 members of his revolting taxpayer group claim the assessments are higher than real market value. The Labour Party mayor Foshaug conceded that not all tax values are correct, and that unhappy taxpayers should apply for adjustments.

Residents of scenic Naustdal in the county of Sogn og Fjordane, population 2,840, are also objecting to property tax bills that have skyrocketed because of a jump in assessed values. PHOTO: Helge Høifødt

Farther to the south, in the mountain community of Naustdal in Sogn og Fjordane County, residents are so angry over their much higher property tax bills that more than 300 of them packed a local community center recently to yell at their local politicians. They’ve also been hit by much higher assessments of their properties’ market value. Local Mayor Håkon Myrvang, also from the Labour Party, had to field many hostile questions at the meeting “that showed lots of engagement,” he told NRK.

Both Myrvang and his administrative chief, Øyvind Bang-Olsen admitted that they were braced for the strong reaction and urged residents to first complain to the property tax assessors. “In such mass assessments, not all are correct in the first round,” Bang-Olsen told NRK. “Then it’s correct to raise questions and complain.”

‘Uncle Scrooge’ in Oslo
Norwegians in general take relatively high taxes in stride, as a means of preserving their social welfare state. In the growing unrest over property tax bills, though, they’re objecting and all the complaints aren’t good for the Labour Party in a national election year. In Oslo, complaints are also flying that in addition to raising tax assessments of property values by as much as 13.3 percent on a year-to-year basis, politicians also voted to raise the tax rate by 50 percent, from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent. That added significantly to the tax impact of higher property values, which have continued to rise at three times the inflation rate or more.

That means Oslo’s city government politicians can look forward to ongoing increases in property tax revenues as they send out new bills year after year. Robert Steen, in charge of finances for the City of Oslo, has publicly been referred to as “Uncle Scrooge” after the city sent out its own much-higher tax bills two weeks ago. They’re proving to be a windfall for Oslo, raising nearly three times the amount Steen himself had budgeted because of how they’re based on big increases in property values.

‘Just delivering on campaign promises’
Steen, also from the Labour Party, seemed far more pleased by the jump in tax revenues than concerned over negative reaction from taxpayers. “We said that we would build day care centers for another 3,000 children during our period in office and intensify elder care so that more elderly people can remain safely in their homes,” Steen told NRK. “Now (with the higher property tax revenues) we’ll be able to deliver on that campaign promise.” He, like the city’s Labour Party head of government, also argued that while average tax bills in Oslo of NOK 7,500 amount to “a solid amount of money, they’re also much less than you’d pay for a comparable home in another city in Norway.”

Wingstad of Målselv, meanwhile, told NRK that his group is demanding that the tax bills they’ve received be cancelled, that last year’s valuations and taxes be maintained and new bills sent out. Employers’ organization NHO in Oslo is also calling for the government in the capital to delay imposition of tax bills on business property until their financial effect can be evaluated.

NHO director Kristin Krohn Devold, a former state government minister for the Conservative Party, was especially concerned about the effect of the higher property tax on hotels like the small Saga Hotel in Oslo. It’s been ordered to pay NOK 180,000 in property tax this year and NOK 267,000 next year. “For a small business like this, that’s a huge new cost in an industry where we already have small margins,” Saga Hotel director Christian Fredrik Sandberg told NRK. “It directly hits our bottom line.” Berglund



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