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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 25 2010

Fargo City Commissioner Williams urges joint planning, votes on schools

City Commissioner Mike Williams, who strongly opposed the building of Davies High School and regularly votes against what he calls leapfrog development in far south Fargo, went with the soft-sell approach Tuesday in trying to convince the school board to work closer with the city and give voters more of a say in putting up schools.

Williams, at times a passionate speaker in commission chambers and on talk radio, was low-key in an eight-minute speech.

He invited school officials to join in a comprehensive planning process with the city. He also urged them to work with the Metropolitan Council of Governments.

And he said future school projects should go to voters for approval.

Major projects “need public buy-in; a strong foundation of community support,” he said.

Williams spoke a night after the City Commission voted to deny protests over special assessments on properties in the Davies area for roads and other infrastructure.

School Board President Jim Johnson said he welcomed meetings with city officials. But he said there’s been lots of contact on school building issues over time, especially in the area Davies was built.

“I’m pretty sure the city hired a guy by the name of Don Faulkner, who is a professional architect and community planner-type guy, who teaches at North Dakota State University … to flesh out the current growth plan of the city. Don Faulkner also wore another hat – as a Fargo School Board member,” Johnson said. “We’ve been pretty involved in that long-range growth plan for quite some time.”

Johnson said the school district has statutory authority to build buildings and stays within its taxing authority to do so.

Johnson also said the city also hasn’t taken expensive projects to the voters, pointing to the Osgood fire station and the Seventh Avenue North transit garage.

“And those two together represent the cost of an elementary school,” he said.

Johnson said the special assessments levied in the Davies area are the same anyone in Fargo would see for a road. The school district will pay $2.7 million in assessments, he said.

After speaking to the board, Williams did not back off his opposition to building roads and other infrastructure around the high school to encourage housing construction.

Williams said he would prefer the city direct tax money to improving older neighborhoods on the city’s north side, to encourage home-buying where classroom space is available.

He said if developers believe the land will sell, they should pay for putting in roads and price their lots accordingly.

Forum reporter Heidi Schaffer contributed to this report

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