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Erik Burgess, Published August 26 2013

Moorhead council overrides veto of city government reorganization

MOORHEAD – The City Council overrode a rare mayoral veto and decided to restructure city government Monday night.

The council voted 7-0 to override Mayor Mark Voxland’s veto of an ordinance that streamlines the community services department, adds a deputy city manager and elevates engineering and parks and recreation to fully-fledged departments. Luther Stueland was absent.

Voxland said the reorganization did nothing to reduce the city’s red tape, which had elicited complaints from some residents. The city also has a $500,000 shortfall in the 2014 preliminary budget and hiring new department heads and a deputy city manager could cost up to $165,000, the mayor said.

“It makes no sense to expand our government to six department heads,” Voxland wrote in a letter to the council. “We should be continuing to streamline our government operational process.”

It was the second time Voxland has vetoed a council action in his 12 years as mayor. It takes six votes to override a mayoral veto.

Diversion business

In other business, the council approved an amendment to the design agreement for the F-M diversion, which increases the project’s design budget from $30 million to $60 million and makes the Diversion Authority a nonfederal sponsor. The other nonfederal sponsors are Fargo and Moorhead.

The council passed a design amendment in July, but it was later adjusted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and required another vote. The latest agreement passed 6-1 Monday, with Councilwoman Heidi Durand voting against.

Durand on Monday came out against the proposed $1.8 billion flood channel. She said she can’t support the current project because of the controversial upstream “staging area” that would be flooded to hold water during flood events larger than a 10-year event.

“I can’t support a project that would place the undue burden on farmers out there; neighbors, friends, family,” Durand said.

The council also passed 6-1 the diversion’s 2014 budget with Durand voting against. Clay County and Moorhead will split $190,000 evenly for the project next year. Moorhead will take the money from its general fund reserves, which sit at an estimated $5.4 million, said City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

Land deal

The council also agreed on Monday to sell 3,200 square feet of city land for $3,200 to Pat Kovash, who wants to expand Kovash Marine, 1417 1st Ave. N., to an adjacent parcel that abuts the railroad tracks.

Kovash told the council that he was angered by how long the deal took, arguing the city was slowing his expansion when it should be helping businesses grow.

The city asked for $2 per square foot, which is just below the city’s 2011 appraised value of the entire site. Kovash said he would pay $1 per square foot for the landlocked parcel that he argued no one else wants to buy. The city remained at $2 per square foot until Monday night, when the council agreed to meet Kovash’s price.

“This is insanity,” Kovash said. “Is this how we’re going to grow Moorhead? I think not.”

Several council members said they didn’t want to hold up the expansion, which has been in the works since May, but Councilman Mark Altenburg called the conversation “unseemly” and said land negotiation shouldn’t be handled by the council.

“This makes me exceedingly uncomfortable … because we know this gentleman and some of us are friends with this gentleman,” Altenburg said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518