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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 10 2010

Fargo City Commission approves flood protection pact by 4-1 vote

Fargo city commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a flood protection cooperation pact Monday with the Cass County Commission and the Cass County Joint Water Resource Board.

But the agreement for building and running a Red River diversion comes with a twist that voids it if a county tax vote fails in November and Cass officials can’t come up with an alternate source of cash.

As part of the pact, Cass commissioners wanted Fargo’s assurance they would carry a half-percent sales tax measure to voters this fall so they could match Fargo’s payments toward a diversion, the idea being that sharing costs cements their position as equal partners in the project

For most city commissioners, that was no problem.

But they insisted on a backup plan in writing in case the Cass vote failed.

While the original pact called for “good faith” talks between Cass and Fargo on cost-sharing if the tax vote failed, an insert now puts a March 15, 2011, deadline on financing talks.

If there is no deal by then, the pact would be voided.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, the lone dissenting vote, wanted more assurances from the county that sales tax funds – which could bring in $11 million to $12 million a year over 20 years – would go to the diversion, and not other county projects.

“I don’t want to harm this diversion. I want to keep this train going,” Piepkorn said.

He said the words “and other flood control measures” in the county’s tax measure left too much to interpretation.

“If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t hold water,” Piepkorn said. “This is a huge amount of money, and this gives a lot of leeway. And that’s what bothers me.”

Commissioner Brad Wimmer voted for the measure, though he said the inserted language was unnecessary.

Wimmer said the city should apply good faith to the expectation that county voters would approve the sales tax.

“If it doesn’t (pass), go with Plan B, which is a Fargo sales tax,” Wimmer said.

Mayor Dennis Walaker said he didn’t believe the inserted language would put the pact in jeopardy.

The City Commission had received the agreement two weeks ago but held off on voting on it, saying they hadn’t had enough time to study it.

County commissioners voted Aug. 2 to put the tax measure on this fall’s ballot.

In other business, the city commission voted to receive and file a protest by local landowners over special assessments for flood control improvements to drains 27 and 53 that they contend are illegal because they include land outside the city.

Attorney Jonathan Garaas in a letter dated Aug. 3 said he represents John K. and Elsine M. Leseth and Fred and Earlyne Hector.

The letter also protests any attempt to charge extra fees on the properties, such as by the City Engineer’s office.

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