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Heidi Shaffer, Published October 08 2010

Local leaders say half-cent tax needed for flood protection

Local leaders say the proposed Cass County half-cent sales tax is necessary for metro flood protection with or without a diversion.

Members of the Metro Flood Study Work Group reaffirmed their commitment to getting a diversion during a meeting on Thursday at Fargo City Hall, but the group assured naysayers that there are plenty of flood projects that will need funding even if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project doesn’t go through.

A newly formed group, the No Blind Tax Committee, opposes the sales tax because the revenue is going toward a project that hasn’t been approved.

Former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren, who serves as a co-chairman on the No Blind Tax Committee, told The Forum this week that the group wants to know what the money is being spent on before approving a tax.

“This is our best shot to get the type of protection we need,” Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said. “You have to have a revenue stream.”

Cass County residents will vote Nov. 2 on the 20-year tax, which is expected to raise $11 million annually

The county will use the funds to pay its portion of a commitment to the city of Fargo to match diversion funding “dollar for dollar,” Wagner said.

He said the county will also need funding to help areas not protected by a diversion project and to develop retention.

Securing a revenue stream for the diversion is also needed to show federal officials that the local sponsors can pay their portion of the project, said Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt.

“Getting the federal money is not a slam-dunk by any means,” he said. “We better have a bullet-proof local plan of how we’re going to come up with the local money.”

If the diversion isn’t built, the county and Fargo will have to fund other projects for protection from the Red River, Berndt said.

Fargo has identified $800 million worth of flood projects that would provide much less protection than a diversion, City Engineer Mark Bittner said.

The corps announced last month that more time is needed to study downstream impacts of the diversion.

Some adjustments will likely be made to project costs, but corps project co-manager Craig Evans said it shouldn’t change much from the existing estimate, which sits at $1.4 billion.

“I don’t think what we’re looking at is anything that would kill the project,” Evans said.

Cass County officials will sponsor four public meetings before the Nov. 2 election to discuss the sales tax.

Local sponsors are paying money upfront for the study that’s under way, and if the diversion moves forward a large amount of money will be needed for land acquisitions, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

“It’s going to be difficult to cash-flow even if the sales tax passes,” he said.

If you go

  • What: Cass County will host a series of public meetings on the proposed half-cent sales tax appearing on the Nov. 2 ballot.

  • When: All meetings begin at 7 p.m.: Oct. 14 at Fargo’s Longfellow Elementary, 20 29th Ave. N.; Oct. 19 at Fargo’s Bennett Elementary School, 2000 58th Ave. S.; Oct. 21 at West Fargo’s Cheney Middle School, 825 17th Ave. E.; Oct. 25 at Spirit of Life Center, St. Leo’s Church in Casselton, N.D.

  • Info: For more information, contact the county commission office at (701) 241-5609.

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