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Tony Gehrig, Published February 02 2014

Letter: Time for city to redefine role of local government

Fargo, we are long overdue for a discussion regarding the role of local government. Start by looking at Fargo’s budget and in many cases ask, “Is that the job of local government?”

Those of us who enjoy downtown have found it difficult to find parking. In response, the City Commission has spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars exploring the idea of building publicly owned parking structures. These structures will cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. The reasoning behind this proposal is more parking means more business downtown, which of course equals higher revenues for both business and city. Sounds great, but is this the role of local government?

Gambling millions

I say it is not the job of the taxpayer to ensure private businesses have enough parking. Would taxpayers volunteer to foot the bill for local restaurants’ parking on 32nd Avenue or supermarkets’ parking on University Drive? Of course not. Further, if additional parking downtown automatically meant more revenue, why haven’t the business owners rallied together and built these structures?

Fact is, the city is gambling millions of your dollars on something that is not a function of local government. But this is not the only questionable endeavor costing the taxpayers millions.

A public gym?

Courts Plus is a publicly owned workout facility in south Fargo with close to 3,000 patrons. But is it the job of local government to subsidize your workout? I say no for important reasons.

First, there is no shortage of good and affordable gyms in Fargo without the city providing one. Second, the city is using tax dollars to compete directly with our neighbors, the owners of these local gyms.

Even if you could forgive the first two points, Courts Plus lost nearly $200,000 last year and is more than

$3.15 million in debt. It is hard to compete, as a small-business owner, against a city-run gym with seemingly limitless taxpayer funds for updates and upgrades that doesn’t have to worry about making a profit. This final example shows how far away the city has gotten from prioritizing spending.

Stay out of arts

The commission voted unanimously to create the Public Art Task Force, which will use tax dollars to buy art and to hire a consultant to accomplish that goal. Most people agree that art adds value to a community, especially a community with as many great artists as Fargo. This isn’t an argument against local art. Rather, this is a conversation about who should pay for art. I argue that bringing art to the masses is best accomplished through charities, organizations, private donors and businesses.

Additionally, it is not the job of local government to tell the people what is or is not art. On a positive note, there are things we can do as a community and local government to support art, such as organizing volunteers, networking and promoting art in the park. These things cost little to nothing to the taxpayer while still spreading awareness. I say leave art where it belongs – in the hands of the people.

We should focus tax dollars on the needs of the city. Fargo has aging infrastructure, a budget that has ballooned by 96 percent in a decade, and we are still threatened by flooding. It is time for responsible spending, prioritization and transparent leadership to take the place of wild spending and the ever-expanding role of local government. This is what I stand for as a candidate, and I hope you will support me in June.

Gehrig, Fargo, is a candidate for City Commission in the June city election.