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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 28 2011

Piepkorn objects to buyout funding

A Fargo city commissioner who opposed a countywide sales tax approved by voters in November now objects to talk of Cass County using some of the tax revenues for home buyouts.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said the county should use the sales tax exclusively on a proposed diversion project, but Cass officials say they are well within their rights if they decide to use the money for home acquisitions.

Piepkorn told The Forum in October that he would vote against the measure because the wording was “really vague.” He wanted the money to go exclusively toward the local portion of a proposed $1.5 billion diversion.

“I knew this was going to happen,” Piepkorn said Thursday of the buyouts discussed Tuesday during a Cass County Buyout Committee meeting.

“When this first came up, this was supposed to be dedicated for permanent flood control for Fargo,” Piep­korn said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said buyouts are part of permanent flood control and he doesn’t see any difference between Fargo using its sales tax for home buyouts and the county doing the same thing.

“To me, that’s part of the flood control process is to remove people from harm’s way,” Walaker said.

Fargo has spent $15.9 million of its own half-cent sales tax on home acquisitions, according to city auditor documents obtained Thursday by The Forum. Piepkorn said he sees those buyouts as a separate issue because the city’s tax, passed in June 2009, came before the diversion was a definitive flood control option.

County Commission Chair­man Darrell Vanyo said Piepkorn’s comments contradict what Fargo has done to pay for buyouts.

“I see that as somebody who is making a statement, attacking another government entity, when they used sales tax dollars for the exact same thing,” Vanyo said.

Cass Commissioner Scott Wagner said using sales tax funds for buyouts is “absolutely appropriate” if that’s what the county decides to do.

“We knew that there were additional flood protection measures beyond the diversion,” Wagner said.

The ballot included wording to allow for funding both the diversion and other flood control, he said.

The approximately 20 homes the county is considering purchasing in the Round Hill, Chrisan and Forest River neighborhoods south of Fargo are largely in areas where permanent levees would be placed, Wagner said.

Those areas are within Fargo’s extraterritorial zone, and county improvements would benefit the city, Wagner said.

“A good part of what would be protected is in south Fargo near the new Davies High School,” Wagner said.

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