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Wendy Reuer, Published May 19 2012

Moorhead moves forward with more home buyouts

MOORHEAD – After receiving more than half of the flood mitigation funding the city had hoped for, officials here are moving forward with more voluntary buyouts along the Red River.

As part of the 2012 Minnesota Legislature’s bonding bill, about $30 million was allocated to the Department of Natural Resources for flood mitigation projects across the state. Of that, $11.5 million will go to the city of Moorhead.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said the city will use the money to finish out the permanent flood mitigation plans it started last fall.

The plans are split in phases: a base plan and phases A through F. Initial phases targeted the lowest areas of the city working from north to south to buy out owners of property voluntarily or help build backyard flood mitigation projects. Letters were sent last year to homeowners in phases base through C.

Redlinger said now that the DNR has granted the funding, letters requesting voluntary buyouts or cost sharing of backyard mitigation in phases D through F will be sent this week. He estimated about 50 more homes may be voluntarily bought out.

The DNR grants flood mitigation funding to cities that can match the amounts. The percentage of the match is based on the city’s population.

Mayor Mark Voxland said last week that the city over-bonded in the fall in anticipation of this funding.

So to finish the phases, the city will not have to kick in more property tax dollars.

“We did that because we wanted to get this project done,” Voxland said.

He added that the city will likely target future legislative bonding bills for the remaining $8.5 million.

“We had a $20 million request, so it is a significant portion of the request,” Redlinger said.

While city officials are very happy with the flood mitigation money, they were neither disappointed nor surprised when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the tax bill that keeps Local Government Aid funding flat in 2013 from 2012.

The Moorhead council grappled with the 2012 budget after experiencing heavy cuts in LGA since 2009, a more than $1 million reduction to the city.

“LGA has gotten to be such an interesting thing to watch,” Voxland said. “I would say it’s great if they did anything with it; they left it alone. Given (the state) is in a deficit, it’s as much as we could hope for.”

Dilworth City Administrator Ken Parke said last week that Dilworth will also receive about the same amount of LGA next year as it did in 2012. Parke said it looked as though the city would lose more LGA next year, so staying flat was a pleasant surprise.

Although both cities were pleased with not having to face cuts to LGA, the tax bill did not include construction incentives Moorhead had heavily lobbied for.

Dayton vetoed the first tax bill that would have included property tax exclusion on the first $200,000 spent on the construction of new homes in Moorhead and Dilworth. That would have matched a similar clause across the border in Fargo. Voxland said he will work to advance that again next year.

“That’s going to be something that I feel is going to be problematic for us,” Voxland said. “It’s not going to help our building trades. That’s the biggest downside I saw.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530