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East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander vetoes tax increase; council to consider options

Funds from the sales tax would help pay to renovate ice arenas and a baseball field.

East Grand Forks City Hall
East Grand Forks City Hall
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EAST GRAND FORKS – East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander on Tuesday vetoed a proposed sales tax increase that would have raised money to renovate the community’s ice arenas and a baseball complex.

As proposed, the tax was a 1.25% increase over a 30-year period. Last week, members of the City Council voted 5-2 to move forward with the tax. Had Gander not vetoed the plan Tuesday, it would have been passed on to the state Legislature for further review.

The council will consider its options in the coming days, possibly as soon as the Jan. 18 meeting. The tax must be approved by Jan. 31 if it’s to be considered in the Legislature this spring. If it does make it to the Legislature and if lawmakers there approve it, it would then need approval by East Grand Forks voters before going into effect.

To override a mayoral veto, the council would need six votes, City Administrator David Murphy said after Tuesdays’ meeting.

Gander said he is concerned about the length of the proposal’s term.

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“The term of 30 years is too long a time to bind our residents to the repayment and it allocates too much of the dollars to interest payments,” Gander said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Gander said he prefers a 1% rate for 20 years.

Council members discussed different sales tax scenarios if the length of term dropped from 30 to 20 years. For a 1% sales tax over 20 years, the funds raised would be estimated at $16.2 million. A 1.1% sales tax over 20 years would likely raise $17.75 million, and a 20-year, 1.125% sales tax would likely raise $18.2 million.

The proposed renovations for the East Grand Forks Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena are part of a $37.4 million plan. The 30-year, 1.25% tax approved last week by the council – and vetoed Tuesday by Gander – would have collected an estimated $27 million to pay for a portion of the renovations.

Parks and Recreation Director, Reid Huttunen, presented the council with numbers needed to get to an estimated $20 million in project funds. At 1.1%, he said, the length of the tax would have to be about 24 years; for 1.125%, the length would have to be about 23 years. Both figures account for 1% inflation growth.

Huttunen said that once the building committee meets later in the week, its members will start discussing how they can bring down the cost of the renovations. “Everything has a little bit of a line and a price to it and we’re going to start crossing it off to get to the number we need to be at,” Huttunen told council members.

Some of the proposed renovations include attaching the civic center to the planned grandstand at the baseball field and creating a shared viewing area at the VFW arena and the adjacent Blue Line Club Arena. Maintenance on the facilities is included within the renovations.

“We know that there are going to be aspects of the project that are going to have to be removed,” Huttunen said. “I would like to find a way to keep some form of one site as intact as possible because I think that it keeps some excitement toward the project.”

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Donations, fundraising and possibly state bonding – if the city qualifies – were also discussed as options to help pay for the renovations.

“The need for fundraising on this is enormous,” Gander said.

In other City Council news Tuesday:

  • Members of council reviewed the five bids received for street improvements, including concrete paving projects on Sawgrass Court. The recommended bidder was Opp Construction at $116,981.
  • The East Grand Forks Fire Department received a 2022 snowmobile trailer valued at $4,700 through a donation in part by the Red River Snowmobile Club, Grand Trailer Sales and Home of Economy. The fire department is responsible for $1,200 and the trade-in of its current trailer.
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 719-235-8640 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

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