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Published November 04 2010

Outlying cities vote against flood sales tax

A majority of Cass County voters living outside a proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion channel voted Tuesday against the county’s half-cent sales tax to pay for it.

Voters in Argusville, Arthur, Buffalo, Casselton, Kindred, Leonard, Mapleton and Page all opposed the countywide tax with at least 60 percent of the vote.

However, a majority of voters in Fargo and West Fargo – home to nearly 84 percent of the county’s population – favored the tax, allowing it to breeze through with 64 percent of the countywide vote.

Opponents had a number of reasons for snubbing the tax, which takes effect April 1 and will generate an estimated $220 million over 20 years to help fund a diversion and other flood control measures.

In Arthur, where 327 of 397 voters opposed the tax, grocery store owner Mary Beth Engelke said some regulars didn’t like the tax because it didn’t have an approved project to fund.

The Army Corps of Engineers isn’t expected to finish its feasibility study of the locally preferred 35,000-cubic-feet-per-second North Dakota diversion until November 2011.

Engelke said some residents also feel it’s unfair to raise taxes on rural landowners whose land may be purchased for the diversion with the money they paid into the tax. Others believe downstream concerns can be better addressed and that Fargo should have to make some land sacrifices within the city, she said.

“Maybe Fargo needs to consider giving up a little bit more, not just diverting around and making it easier,” she said.

The 36-mile diversion channel would start at the Red River just north of Oxbow/Hickson and wrap around Fargo, West Fargo, Horace and Harwood before re-entering the Red.

Shane Larck, mayor of Page, said some residents already feel that the city 45 miles northwest of Fargo doesn’t receive enough support from county services such as snowplows and law enforcement, and some don’t see how a diversion will benefit them.

But Larck, who manages an insurance agency in Page, voted for the tax.

“Without Fargo, none of these small towns are going to survive. Everybody goes to Fargo two, three, four times a week,” he said. “We’ve got about 15 spouses that commute there every day. … It’d be a trickledown effect to these other communities if flood protection is not there. Plus, I insure a lot of people that live there.”

The tax won at least 60 percent of the vote at all Fargo polling sites, including at least 70 percent of the vote at eight sites.

In the three District 13 precincts that cover most of West Fargo, about 54 percent of voters supported the tax. Mayor Rich Mattern had endorsed the tax, citing the fact that a large number of workers living in West Fargo are employed in Fargo – more than two-thirds in 2008 – and stand to lose financially if Fargo floods.

County Commissioner Scott Wagner said he wasn’t surprised by the vote results, though he hoped the tax would pull greater support from outside the metro area.

“I think what we tried to do and hopefully continue to impress upon people is we have to look at ourselves as a greater community, and we’re interdependent upon one another,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528