Published October 14 2010
Fargo City Commissioner Piepkorn opposes county sales tax plan
Fellow City Commissioner Mike Williams also said he wants clearer language in the joint powers agreement between the city and county to specify that upstream water storage projects will be eligible for the sales tax money.
Piepkorn’s opposition wasn’t a big surprise. On Aug. 9, he cast the lone dissenting vote against the agreement, saying he wanted more assurances that the 20-year tax – which will bring in an estimated $220 million – will pay for only a Red River diversion, The Forum reported.
He opposed the ballot language stating that the tax money will be used for a diversion “and other flood control measures.”
Piepkorn said he called a local talk radio show Wednesday to say he plans to vote against the tax on Nov. 2 and to encourage people to read the measure “because it’s really vague.”
“It’s got a lot of wording in there that gives them a lot of latitude, and I’m not comfortable with that,” he said.
County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo called Piepkorn’s position “very disappointing” and said it harkens to “a little bit of a trust issue” that arose when Fargo and Cass leaders were wrestling over which entity should have control over the sales tax and carry it to voters.
Vanyo said the ability to spend the sales tax money on other flood control measures will be needed if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends upstream and downstream measures to mitigate the effects of the locally preferred North Dakota-side diversion, estimated to cost $1.46 billion. Money also would be used to fund flood protection efforts in areas of Cass County not protected by the diversion.
He said the county tax will match dollar-for-dollar Fargo’s contribution from its half-cent city sales tax approved by voters in 2009.
Vanyo – who will join Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern at a news conference today to urge support for the tax – said local funds must be committed before the corps will bring the project to Congress for approval.
“If the people don’t support this and don’t support other means of local funding, why are we going through a year and a half or two years or three years of the corps studying this?” he said. “It seems to me that this is the proper way to do it.”
Williams said he’ll support the tax if the agreement is amended to make upstream water retention outside of Cass County an eligible expense. He said he approached Vanyo about it during a bus tour of area flood control projects Wednesday and would like to see the amendment made prior to the election.
“The diversion may or may not happen, but retention and comprehensive water management does need to happen,” he said.
City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said he’s “very much in favor” of the sales tax and has “every faith in the county that that sales tax is for a diversion.”
Wimmer said that while the ballot language “could be a little more specific,” he believes the county “would be hard-pressed to use it for anything but diversion-related items.”
“They’re elected just like we are, and the public is very much knowing that these are taxes for the diversion,” he said.
Piepkorn said joint powers agreements can change, “and with this amount of money, that’s not acceptable to me.”
City Commissioner Tim Mahoney called Piepkorn’s comments “unfortunate.” He said there are “more than enough” flood projects that need funding, and a less desirable alternative is special assessments.
“I think it’s a very fair tax,” he said.
Piepkorn said he’s not associated with the No Blind Tax Committee that came out last week in opposition to the tax and is co-chaired by former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren.
“I’m not going to be part of any active campaign,” Piepkorn said.
If the county tax measure fails, Piepkorn said he plans to bring back the proposal for another half-cent city sales tax – but not until he knows exactly how much the city will have to fork out for the diversion.
“Right now, we’re saying we’re willing to pony up, and no one else is,” he said.
Ballot language for proposed Cass sales tax
“Shall Article 9 of the Home Rule Charter of the County of Cass be amended to authorize collection of a one-half of one percent (1/2%) sales, use, and gross receipts tax as outlined in Resolution #2010-26 for a period of up to twenty consecutive years from and after April 2011, to be used for the engineering, land purchase, construction, and maintenance of a Red River Diversion and other flood control measures or the payment of special assessments or debt incurred for a Red River Diversion and other flood control measures as authorized by the Cass County Commission, all as provided in the Notice of Proposed Home Rule Charter Amendment as published in THE FORUM on the 30th day of August 2010.”
Informational meetings begin tonight
The first of four public meetings designed to provide information on a proposed half-cent Cass County sales tax for flood control is scheduled for tonight.
The county tax, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, would generate an estimated $11 million a year to help pay for the local share of a diversion channel to protect Fargo-Moorhead.
All of the meetings are scheduled at 7 p.m.:
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528