Mark Herschlip, Fargo, Published January 18 2014
Letter: School district misuses your taxesOnce again, the Fargo School Board is attempting to subvert the will of the North Dakota Legislature. The Legislature gave you, the Fargo property taxpayer, substantial property tax relief in 2013, but the board wants you, the taxpayer, to fund a special election and vote to give them back your significant tax break.
In 2013, the Legislature increased per-pupil funding in the Fargo district and statewide, from $3,800 to $9,000 per pupil. The intent of the Legislature was to increase funding in return for an equal reduction in the heavy burden of high property tax. For years, the Fargo district lobbied the state for this hefty funding increase. And now, it wants to renege on its end of the deal with your permission.
The district’s plan to rig the special election in their favor is happening in bits and pieces. The district is required to reduce its mill levy to 60 mills by 2015 per state law, but the board wants to retain the current excess mills even with 80 percent of education funding coming from the state. To secure a 10-year tax increase, the board called on Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir to facilitate an expensive one-ballot issue special election, in spite of a Cass County primary June 10. He agreed. Montplaisir was not required, by law, to comply.
Why hold an expensive special election in March when the taxpayer is already paying for an election in June? The answer is simple. The Fargo School Board is staging a special election to appeal to their issue friendly constituents, not to you, the general public. Per district board minutes, board members are advocating for the excess mills by creating Powerpoint presentations, presented not in the public square but in their schools, to their pliable constituents. It appears they are using your own tax dollars for this purpose, which, I believe, is illegal in North Dakota. In short, the board has no interest in having Joe and Jane Public show up to ruin their plans.
But there’s more: A special election date of March 25 was set, but when board President Dinah Goldenberg realized Fargo schools were not in session and targeted voters might be out of town, the board changed the date to March 11. Did they consult with you, or other city, county and private entities to see if you would be in town to vote? Of course not.
And here is the kicker. In order to make sure that their targeted voters can easily cast a ballot, the board requested the Cass Country auditor to change the polling stations, from the normal venues, to the public schools. He complied. Due to security and safety reasons, schools have rightly not been used as polling stations for several elections. But the board set the safety of children to the side. It wants its excess mills at any cost.
The board should reverse course, cancel the special election, and live within its budget means, which is the sate allotment per pupil plus 60 mills levied. But the Fargo board, at a time of decreased pupil enrollment, is set on confiscating your entitled tax break. You’d better call Montplaisir to find out where your polling place is. To secure your property tax reduction, you must show up and vote.