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Heidi Shaffer, Published March 27 2010

Fargo, Cass leaders face tight timeline for half-cent sales tax

City and county leaders face a tight timeline if they want to get a half-cent sales tax for flood protection on the June ballot.

The deadline to submit a proposal is April 9, giving leaders less than two weeks to decide.

The next time voters could weigh the measure would be in November. Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker told The Forum earlier this week that he would like to see a plan sought while flooding is still fresh in the minds of voters.

Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo said the county plans to meet with Fargo leaders next week to discuss the possible measure.

“Because we do have an election coming up, it would seem appropriate to meet the deadline of April 9, get it on the ballot and have it voted on now rather than waiting until November,” Vanyo said.

The tax would cover local costs of an estimated $1.3 billion North Dakota diversion. How much the local share of the diversion ends up being depends on what the states of Minnesota and North Dakota will contribute.

Local jurisdictions estimate their share of the diversion is $650 million to $750 million, Walaker said this week.

Federal officials have said they will give $565 million, but that figure could rise.

As for making the deadline, Vanyo said it still gives leaders time to present how much can be raised through the measure.

Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said he isn’t willing to commit to the sales tax as a funding source until formal discussions take place.

“I think we need to look at all of our funding options and what’s the best funding source to use,” he said. “And I think we’ve got a couple of them.”

Besides the sales tax, special assessments are the only other option for local leaders to raise the funds, Vanyo said, “because nobody wants to see property taxes go up.”

“It gets to be a little bit complex, but that’s the reason we want to meet, is to determine whether or not sales tax should be Fargo’s or the county’s and whether or not special assessments should be used in conjunction with that,” Vanyo said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 235-7311