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Published March 14 2012

Fargo leaders still split on sales tax proposal

FARGO – Despite a nearly two-hour informational session Wednesday, city leaders here are no closer to agreement on a proposed sales tax extension that could go before voters in June.

At the request of Fargo commissioners, city staff from the engineering and water treatment departments presented detailed evidence of how the city’s sales tax funds have been used in the past 20 years.

While commissioners seem to agree the taxes have been well-spent, they continue to be split on whether this summer is the appropriate time to ask voters to keep the tax.

The half-cent street and infrastructure tax is due to expire in June, and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker is leading the charge to extend it – citing the need to pay for various street and flood protection projects.

However, as city leaders wrestle with the mere idea of the tax, details such as what precisely it would pay for remain fuzzy.

Under the proposal being drafted, the revenue from the extension would pay for a combination of water, wastewater, street and flood protection projects.

Commissioners would be able to allocate funds to whatever projects they deemed to be highest-priority in a given year.

Also unclear is how long the extension would be for, if it were to pass.

Walaker told The Forum on Wednesday that an exact length is still up in the air, but proposals to extend the sales tax have ranged from 10 years to 30 years.

Commissioners Mike Williams and Dave Piepkorn each said they were no more convinced about the sales extension after Wednesday’s session.

The pair maintained their earlier resistance, saying a June vote is too soon to ask for the tax, especially when a defined purpose has yet to be agreed upon.

Commissioner Tim Mahoney agreed with Walaker that the matter should be up the voters to decide.

“Let the people vote on it,” he said. “There’s a lot of needs out there.”

Commissioner Brad Wimmer was absent from Wednesday’s meeting for unknown reasons. Wimmer said at a meeting last week that he’d support the proposal, after earlier opposing it.

City staff have designated hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and flood protection projects they say must be tackled over the next years and decades.

They said sales tax dollars are the fairest way to spread the cost, especially since special assessments from property owners aren’t a feasible option to pay for projects.

“For a growing city or an aging city – and we’re both – you do need a dedicated funding stream if you intend to maintain your infrastructure to the standards we believe our citizens want,” Fargo city engineer Mark Bittner said.

Fargo commissioners plan to vote April 2 on a resolution asking for the public vote in June.

The request must be published no later than April 12 in order to appear on the ballot.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541


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