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Published July 02 2009

Forum editorial: Flood tax vote says get it done

The overwhelming “yes” vote for a Fargo flood protection sales tax underscores two truths: First, Fargo residents, whether they live near the river or on high ground, have had enough of fighting major floods and want something done. Second, the city’s elected leaders and administrative professionals enjoy extraordinary support among the people of the city. Both factors are vital as the city pursues a comprehensive flood protection project that is sure to stir a lively debate.

The “yes” vote Tuesday prevailed by nearly 91 percent – a level unprecedented in the city’s voting history. The measure needed 60 percent to pass, but got far more than 60 percent from every voting precinct.

Analysts had suggested a small turnout could doom the sales tax. One rule of elections is that a light turnout favors a “no” vote. The vote was relatively light, but the sentiment to use the half-cent sales tax to fund flood work is so strong in the city that there was no question the measure would pass. The surprise was it passed by such a huge margin.

Secondly, city commissioners put themselves on the line by unanimously and very publicly backing the tax. Mayor Dennis Walaker and three former mayors led a “yes” vote campaign that featured television and newspaper advertising. Commissioners penned a “yes” vote commentary for The Forum.

The campaign might not have been necessary. The results of the balloting revealed the city’s deep commitment to flood protection. With memories of the 2009 near-disaster fresh in the city’s collective mind, a half-cent sales tax over 20 years looked to be the least the city could do to fund its share of the necessary work.

The vote strengthens the city’s argument as it seeks state and federal dollars for flood protection. Sales tax revenues will be used to leverage money from those sources. (The state of North Dakota has already pledged $76 million.) Additionally, the city can claim the moral high ground because its residents – and visitors who enjoy Fargo’s amenities, services and infrastructure – will pony up the local share.

Walaker said in a broadcast interview Tuesday night that his seeking a second term turned on the results of the tax vote. He need not worry. At this point, if he wants a second term he can have it. To mangle a flood metaphor: These days the mayor walks on water.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.