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Patrick Springer, Published August 03 2010

Half-cent sales tax for flood control to go before Cass County voters

Cass County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Monday that will place a proposed half-cent sales tax for flood control on the November ballot.

The half-cent tax is expected to generate $11 million to $12 million a year over 20 years, primarily to help pay the local share of a planned $1.4 billion diversion channel to protect Fargo-Moorhead from flooding.

If it passes, the tax would be used to match, dollar-for-dollar, local contributions for a flood tax already levied by the city of Fargo that raises about $10 million a year.

Any surplus funds raised by the county sales tax could be spent on supplemental flooding projects, including mitigation efforts upstream or downstream of Fargo-Moorhead, county officials said.

“It is critical flood protection for residents of the city of Fargo and Cass County,” Commissioner Scott Wagner said before voting in favor of the proposal.

Passage of the resolution was required to authorize publication of public notices of the half-cent tax proposal at least 60 days before the Nov. 2 election.

“We’re at a point here where we’ve got to make decisions,” said Commissioner Darrell Vanyo. “We need to put ourselves in a position to support this opportunity.”

Commissioners on Monday also unanimously approved a policy drafted by County Engineer Keith Berndt intended to give the board guidance in spending any flood-control tax proceeds on projects other than the diversion.

Berndt’s suggestions include soliciting public input every year on flood-control initiatives and then ranking them in order of priority.

“This is a guideline and probably a good practice to have in place,” Vanyo said, noting the plan allows flexibility.

In other action, commissioners authorized the county to spend $50,100 to pay for an alternative method of driving sheet pilings to be used in construction of the new,

$14.7 million west addition to the courthouse.

The method avoids the jarring vibrations of traditional methods, and therefore should reduce the need for repairs, including $12,000 set aside for tuck-pointing brickwork on the existing courthouse, County Administrator Bonnie Johnson said.

The approval came just minutes after county officials gathered to officially break ground on the three-story, 70,000-square-foot addition, slated for completion in early 2012.

Commissioners also approved testing to determine the source of water discovered in the dirt basement of the original courthouse. One possibility: an underground pipe ruptured about eight weeks ago when crews were digging in preparation for the addition.

Engineers at the time thought the pipe served the former jail and sheriff’s residence, demolished several years ago. The testing is expected to cost $25,000 to $35,000 – much less, officials noted, than the $423,000 savings in bids for the first phase of construction for the project.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522