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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 16 2008

Horse Park special assessments deferred

The Fargo City Commission is betting the North Dakota Horse Park can still attract development needed to pay the costs of building roads, sewer and water to the track.

The commission voted 4-1 Monday night to defer special assessment payments on the park for three years, with a review of the agreement annually.

The 110-acre track complex was due to make its first $118,000 payment early in 2009.

With a budget of about $1.4 million, paying the taxes now “would create some real difficulties,” General Manager Heather Benson said.

Benson said the horse park is working to develop its land, as is Sheyenne Development, which owns an adjacent 40-acre parcel, to create a tax base to pay the assessments.

Benson said the horse park is also creating a five-year plan to make its funding independent of the state racing commission. The racing commission gave the park $575,000 for 2009, but its funds have dwindled.

Benson said the race park will offer more simulcast racing and make the park more of a tourism draw by adding equine activities other than racing. She said that should guarantee that the park will continue operations in 2010 and beyond.

Commissioner Mike Williams voted against deferring the taxes. Williams said that the people running the horse park knew the taxes were going to be due and should have included them in their budget process. He said paying the taxes would be an incentive to work harder to find firms to build on the land.

But Mayor Dennis Walaker said the recession has made putting together big developments tough. “I think they need a chance,” he said.

The city spent $1.5 million bringing sewer, water and other infrastructure to the track at 5180 19th Ave. N., Williams said. He said $5 million in development is needed to pay the assessments.

In other business, the commission voted 5-0 to hire Bismarck attorney John Olson to act as a lobbyist for the city during the 2009 Legislature. Olson will be paid up to $30,000 for his work, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583