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Kelly Smith, Published January 27 2009

Bill would give voters say on public building projects

North Dakota voters would have the final say in public building projects if a bill sponsored by two Fargo legislators passes.

“It’s just giving people a voice in how their property taxes are spent,” said Rep. Jim Kasper, a Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor.

Kasper and Rep. Blair Thoreson, also a Republican, are among six state legislators sponsoring House Bill 1398.

Kasper said the bill is a response to voters’ concerns over increasing property taxes in Fargo.

“A lot of people have asked, ‘What are we building all these new schools for?’ ” he said. “People need to be more involved, and … have a voice in whether a building is built.”

Fargo voters haven’t voted on a school building since the early 1990s; the district’s building authority was established in 1988. Since then the district has built or remodeled several schools.

Kasper’s bill would require a 60 percent vote before any building project by school districts, cities, park districts or counties moved forward.

This applies to any project funded through a building authority or other indirect means that would incur debt, the bill states.

A building authority is a separate, nonprofit entity usually comprised of board members and administrators, in the case of school districts, used to borrow money to finance large construction projects.

The proposed bill includes not just new buildings, but also projects under construction, purchase, repair, improvement, modernization or renovation.

The question, for both those who oppose and support the bill, is who should have the authority to approve building projects.

“Those major expenses need to be voted on,” Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams said.

Fargo School Board member John Strand is also a vocal opponent of building authorities.

“In my mind, the people have the authority to support new buildings,” Strand said.

Fargo School Board President Dan Fremling disagrees.

“I think that’s what voters voted us into,” he said.

He added that Fargo voters already voted on giving the district’s building authority the authority to build projects.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515