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Heidi Shaffer, Published August 26 2010

Fargo School District to owe $2.8 million in Davies assessments

The biggest bill for special assessments near the new Davies High School will go to the Fargo School District.

The district is expected to owe more than $2.8 million for improvements made to the roads and sewers along 25th Street in far south Fargo.

The district will pay those specials through its special assessment levy, which spreads the costs to all district taxpayers, said Jackie Gapp, interim business manager for the schools.

“I think there’s been a misconception that the school district isn’t paying special assessments, but (they’re assessed) just like anyone else,” said Danny Eberhardt, the city’s special assessment coordinator.

Of the $11.9 million project, total assessments are estimated at $9.7 million. The district’s share is almost 29 percent of the specials, with the rest going to homeowners and developers.

City taxpayers will also pick up a chunk of the projects.

A portion of improvements not assessed will be paid for through city sales taxes and sewer utility funds, putting taxpayers on the hook for $1.9 million of the paving and sewer projects.

And depending on the number of deferrals offered, the city would pay for that interest with taxpayer funds. Deferrals allow delayed payments for developers and homeowners.

The paving project along 25th Street is expected to wrap up next year, in time for the $38 million school’s fall 2011 opening. But assessments won’t be billed until work is completed, likely not until sometime in 2012, said School Board President Jim Johnson.

Paul Meyers, another school board member, said this round of specials isn’t by any means the first for the district.

“Under the current operating system, they charge us those special assessments and we pay them,” Meyers said.

But the North Dakota School Board Association has called into question a city’s ability to tax a school district because of a state statute that says one sub-division of government can’t tax another sub-division, Johnson said.

The association may ask the North Dakota attorney general to clarify whether that statute includes special assessments, he said.

“Until the attorney general hands out an opinion on it, I don’t think the city is doing anything in error,” Johnson said. “But I think the school boards association would like some clarification on (the statue’s) language.”

Meyers said it’s a big “if” whether the district will take the issue to the attorney general, especially when there’s so much debate about the current special assessments.

Original assessment totals were reduced after bids were lower than expected on the sewer portion of the project, and Johnson hopes the same will happen when the paving portion goes to bid on Sept. 1.

Darvin Becker, a homeowner at 6217 25th St. S. who owes about $60,000 in specials, feels it’s fair the district is assessed the same as other homeowners in the area because Davies is the reason the city started the projects.

“So they should help out and pay just like the rest of us,” he said.

But the city would likely have paved 25th Street to 64th Avenue on pretty much the same timeline without the school because of new developments finishing up in that area, engineer Brenda Derrig said.

Work south of 64th Avenue would have probably been done later, she added.

Meyers said the school board has taken heat over how far south the school was built, but the high school will likely be part of the district for 75 years or longer.

With Fargo poised to continue growing to the south, it was the area that made most sense to place the high school, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511