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Published March 19 2012

Cass approves $732,000 in rural flood relief projects

FARGO – Cass County leaders agreed Monday to dole out nearly $732,000 of last year’s sales tax revenue to help aid specific flood protection projects in rural communities.

Out of 56 requests for the available funds, a special committee of county leaders decided Monday to fund projects in Argusville, Oxbow and Mapleton, a home buyout and levee construction in the Round Hill neighborhood and a retention project on the upper Maple River.

County Administrator Keith Berndt said those specific projects were recommended for funding above others this year because they weren’t still in the planning phase.

“While they may be valid projects, they’re not in a position to be constructed this year,” Berndt said of the proposals not picked.

Some projects, like those proposed in Harwood, also might be unnecessary if the Red River diversion project moves forward, Berndt told the committee.

Members of the county’s flood sales tax committee are Berndt, commissioners Ken Pawluk and Darrell Vanyo, County Auditor Mike Montplaisir and Rodger Olson, vice chairman of the Cass County Joint Water Resource District.

The committee’s decision Monday is subject to the approval of the full Cass County Commission.

Voters approved a half-cent sales tax for flood protection in 2010. Cass County leaders vowed to use only a portion of the annual revenue – about 9 percent – toward extra projects in the county.

The bulk of the revenue – some $10 million a year – is earmarked for expenses related to the ongoing Red River diversion project. The tax is expected to generate about $11 million a year.

Between April and December 2011, Cass County took in $7.6 million from the sales tax. So far in 2012, the tax has brought in about $3.7 million, Montplaisir reported.

The flood sales tax committee plans to meet again late this summer to gauge the county’s revenue and solicit projects that could be funded in 2013.

County leaders say they want to focus on projects with immediate benefits and not spend the revenue too far in advance.

“What I do not want to do is borrow from the diversion funds for these projects,” Vanyo said. “My feeling is that we aren’t going to dole out money until there is a project, and they’re under way with their project. We may make a commitment, but won’t release funds until we know it’s going to happen.”


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