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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Mayor targeted in property tax revolt

The Labour Party’s mayor in Norway’s northern city of Bodø, Ida Pinnerød, is the target of so much anger over high local property tax bills that she went along with a stunt to let residents throw cakes at her during a handball match. The stunt was cancelled this week, however, after even more negative reaction from the public.

The Labour Party government in Norway’s northern city of Bodø has become the scene of a taxpayer revolt, after it imposed the highest property taxes in the country. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“The mayor is making fun of something that’s very serious for many people,” Hege Mulstrand, a 42-year old single mother who’s been hit with a property tax bill of NOK 28,000, told local newspaper Bodø Nu. “I normally go to BHK (Bergen Handball Club) matches, but I’m not at all interested in this (the cake-throwing stunt). It’s just too stupid. We are grown people and she (Mayor Pinnerød) should be, too.”

Mulstrand had earlier in the week been featured in national newspaper VG because she fears she may need to sell her home if she continues to get hit with Bodø’s high property tax bills year after year. State statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) has ranked Bodø, a city of around 50,000 residents on Norway’s northern coast, as having the highest property tax in the country after recently re-assessing the property values on which the tax is based. Mulstrand, who works at a local day care center and is raising a 13-year-old son, was among those receiving a shockingly high bill, and learning that Pinnerød’s government had even assessed an old shed on her property as being worth NOK 52,000 and thus taxable as well.

‘Feel punished’
“This bill was double what I’d feared it would be, and NOK 28,000 is a lot to pay when you’re alone,” Mulstrand told VG. She’s far from alone, however, in being shocked and furious over the property bills that started arriving earlier this year. Several neighbourhood associations are banding together to battle Bodø’s property tax bills that can amount to an entire month’s pay.

“Folks have lost confidence in the whole program,” Einar Wennberg, a 41-year-old homeowner who got a bill for NOK 23,000, told VG. He’s become a leader of the property tax revolt that’s building against Pinnerød and her Labour-led local government. “I think it’s a brutally high bill and those of us living outside the city wonder what we’re getting in return for this,” Wennberg said. “It’s just wrong, in my head.”

Bjørn Åge Jensen, age 56, told VG that he feels like he’s “being punished” for building his new home himself, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and laundry room all on one level because he’s battling Parkinson’s disease. The house was specially designed so that he can live in the outlying Norsia area with his disease as long as possible, but it resulted in a property tax assessment that’s costing him NOK 30,000. He was so angry he set up a Facebook group to protest the tax in an area that has no bus service, no streetlights or other public services like those in town. His group now has 430 members.

Bodø Mayor Ida Maria Pinnerød has stirred up frustration and anger over property tax. PHOTO: Wikipedia

More than 1,500 formal complaints have poured in to the city since the new tax bills went out, and Pinnerød claims she never intended to make fun of those protesting. “On the contrary,” she told Bodø Nu, “we have worked a lot on this issue, and raised the standard deduction (off property value) to NOK 500,000.” That’s aimed at lowering property tax bills, though only slightly, but she said her government also may consider exempting some properties from the tax if it’s too big a burden or deemed “unreasonable.”

She claimed she could understand that taxpayers react when mistakes are made: “That’s why it’s important that folks report mistakes.” Mulstrand, however, has so far only received a reduction of NOK 1,000 on her bill, so she’s not satisfied at all.

Complaints have also poured in from taxpayers in other municipalities around Norway, not least Lillehammer, which had to extend its deadline for receiving them because there were so many. Residents of the former Olympic city are especially upset that local tax officials assessed their property values at levels higher than what even real estate brokers consider to be market value, and then calculated high tax rates on allegedly inflated values.

SSB calculated that the 10 municipalities with the highest property taxes on a standard home of 120 square meters (around 1200 square feet) were Bodø, Brønnøy, Alstahaug, Nord-Odal, Rygge, Lillehammer, Hamar, Karlsøy in Troms County, Skaun and Rakkestad, where average bills ranged from NOK 9996 to NOK 7520. Average property tax bills, by comparison, were NOK 7500 in Bergen, NOK 3378 in Stavanger and NOK 2400 in Oslo.

Local governments claim they’ve been compelled to impose property tax because of high and rising pension liabilities, high debt levels and low interest rates on their own investments. While some communities have used property tax revenues to build community centers complete with swimming pools, a library and cinemas, others need the revenues to balance budgets and pay for projects, like in Brønnøy, that became more expensive than expected.

Other communities simply want to have more money in the bank. Hattfjelldal, for example, runs a budget surplus but still collects property tax, reportedly to ensure funding for needed maintenance projects and avoid a deficit. Nearly all the local governments with property tax are run by the Labour and Center parties. Berglund



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