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Published March 19 2012

Fargo sales tax extension to be on June ballot

FARGO – Voters here will get to decide on a proposed half-cent sales tax extension after the City Commission voted 3-2 Monday night in favor of placing the issue on the June ballot.

City Attorney Erik Johnson presented the commission with a tax extension draft proposal modeled after a 1-cent sales tax measure voters approved in 2006. That measure allocated funds to water, wastewater, street and flood protection projects.

The measure that will be placed on the June ballot proposes a 20-year half-cent sales tax that would take effect Jan. 1 and last until Dec. 31, 2032.

Money collected from the tax extension could be used for a wide range of projects, including streets and traffic management, water supply and treatment, water distribution, sewer treatment and collection and flood protection or flood-risk mitigation.

Commissioners needed to approve a resolution no later than their April 2 meeting in order to get the measure on the June ballot as Mayor Dennis Walaker wanted.

Walaker argued Monday night that the tax extension is necessary in order to fund the city’s long-term infrastructure projects, especially flood control and street repair.

“Investment in infrastructure is the best thing for a city,” he said. “When streets reach a certain point, there’s nothing you can do with them except tear it out and start over, and that’s extremely expensive.”

Commissioners Mike Williams and Dave Piepkorn, both of whom voted against placing the issue on the ballot, voiced the most concern against the extension at the meeting. Both argued that the city was rushing into the decision.

“We’ve spent two weeks discussing this. That is irresponsible,” Piepkorn said.

Commissioner Tim Mahoney, who earlier had also expressed hesitation in placing the measure on the ballot, said at the meeting he was confident the tax extension met the city’s needs.

“Infrastructure needs are even more so now than they’ve ever been before,” he said. “We have raised the city to a certain level which we are expected to have good infrastructure.”

“This is not something that was not thought out,” he added.

A half-cent sales tax generates about $10 to $11 million per year for the city of Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535