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Patrick Springer, Published August 10 2011

Fargo may seek extension of half cent infrastructure sales tax to help pay for flood control

FARGO – Mayor Dennis Walaker said today that city leaders plan next year to ask Fargo taxpayers to extend a half-cent infrastructure sales tax to help pay for $200 million in interim flood control measures to protect the city to a Red River level of 42½ to 43 feet.

Walaker made his comments to a field hearing of the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Dave Piepkorn, a Fargo city commissioner, said he wants answers to questions, including the city's share of paying for the diversion, before asking voters to consider extending the infrastructure tax.

Interim flood protection improvements, including buyouts of expensive homes in flood-prone areas, would be made to protect the city for about 10 years and would be a “bridge” to protect the city until a diversion could provide 500-year flood protection, or a flood of about 46 feet, Walaker said.

Extending the infrastructure sales tax, first passed in 1992, would be in addition to a half-cent sales tax levied by the city of Fargo and a half-cent sales tax imposed by Cass County to pay the local share of a proposed flood diversion channel with a price tag of $1.7 billion in current dollars.

Conrad said the federal share of the diversion, $785 million, would be roughly a quarter of what the federal government could pay if Fargo suffered a devastating flood loss like the one that struck Grand Forks in 1997.

With more than 30,000 structures to protect, Fargo could easily suffer more than $6 billion in flood damage, with the federal cost roughly half of that, Conrad said.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who also attended the hearing, said annual flood-fighting costs also impose huge federal costs.

The federal share of record flooding this year in North Dakota, based on what’s known now, is at least $700 million, Hoeven said.

Walaker, Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland and Cass County Commissioner Darrell Vanyo, among others, spoke of the urgent need to provide permanent flood protection for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

The value of property in Cass and Clay counties is $14 billion, and average annual wages for the metro area are $4.3 billion a year, Vanyo said.

For more details read Thursday’s Forum.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522