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Erik Burgess, Published September 03 2013

Proposed Fargo city budget has 'modest' tax cut

FARGO – City leaders here appear likely to pass a 2014 budget that would cut the city’s portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill by about 1.7 percent.

It’s a “modest” reduction, largely due to the strength of the North Dakota economy, Finance Director Kent Costin said at Tuesday City Commission meeting.

For a $180,000 home, it would mean about $8 less in property taxes levied by the city. The city’s portion of property taxes makes up about 15 percent of a homeowner’s total property tax bill, Costin said.

The city also proposes to lower its wastewater utility fees from $19 a month to $16. This would be the first time the fee has ever been lowered, Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Walaker said with the state’s booming economy and now the city proposing to levy less in property taxes, some residents might expect property taxes to go away altogether.

“That’s wishful thinking as far as I’m concerned, but we’re trying,” he said.

The city proposes raising its landfill tipping fees from $35 to $38 per ton to bring Fargo closer to average market prices now charged by regional landfills. Walaker said that will only affect commercial rates, raising them up by 8.5 percent.

“This will not – I repeat – not affect residential rates for garbage service,” the mayor said.

Of the 20 positions requested by city departments, 13 are filled by the proposed budget, including four firefighters, three police officers, an assistant city planner and an arborist.

City leaders have also been asked by staff to establish a building fund for two upcoming major capital projects: renovation of the former Sunmart/CVS building on 13th Avenue and 25th Street South into the city’s public health office and construction of a new City Hall.

A midyear budget adjustment moving $1 million from the 2013 general fund into the building fund is recommended. Another $500,000 transfer is recommended from the wastewater fund into the building fund.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said he wants to see the design of the renovated public health building finished this fall so construction can begin in the winter. The cost is estimated at $8 million.

The 13-member resident committee charged with recommending a site for the new City Hall expects to have a location picked by Oct. 3. Zavoral said that could be bid for construction late next year. The budget is expected to be between $8 million and $12 million, which will likely include some state aid.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to set a public hearing for 6 p.m. on Sept. 16 to discuss the preliminary levy and budget. Barring any major impasses, Costin said the city hopes to be finished with the budget by that meeting.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518