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Residents express concerns at first Grand Forks County home rule town hall

The goal of home rule is to provide the county more control to create ordinances, laws and rules based on what voters deem to be most important to the community, rather than sticking to state law.

Home Rule Town Hall 1 6:16:2022.jpeg
(From left) Tom Ford, Grand Forks county director of administration; Kyle Kvamme, Grand Forks city council member; and county commissioners Bob Rost, Tom Falck and David Engen speak at the first Grand Forks County home rule town hall Thursday, June 16, 2022, at Red River High School.
Jacob Holley
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GRAND FORKS — Approximately 25 people attended a Thursday town hall meeting to discuss the Grand Forks County Commission's proposal to adopt a home rule charter. Many expressed concerns about the idea, worrying about the potential change's impact.

The goal of home rule is to provide the county more control to create ordinances, laws and rules based on what voters deem to be most important to the community, rather than sticking to state law.

Specifically, the commission wants to first use home rule as a means of proposing a half-cent sales tax to create a new revenue stream for the county. It's a common reason behind entities shifting to home rule.

Tom Falck, Grand Forks County commissioner and member of the home rule charter committee, said the plan would be for 60% of the half-cent sales tax’s revenue to be used to build facilities. Also, 20% would be used toward property tax relief and the final 20% would be used to repair infrastructure, such as roads and bridges within county limits.

Grand Forks County Director of Administration Tom Ford said he thought Thursday's meeting and discussion went well.

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“There were people that came, they had questions, they had concerns and they asked them,” Ford said. “I was pleased with the level of interest in interaction. And it won't be our last (town hall). This is the process. We want the residents in the county to have a say and tell us what they think, what they want and what their concerns are.”

Those who came to the event were generally skeptical about the situation. Some were concerned with property taxes not decreasing even with the addition of regular sales-tax income. Other concerns included asking for more mills — a unit used to determine taxing — instead of implementing a sales tax, whether a switch to home rule would reduce the amount of money allotted to the county by the state, and even skepticism on how much a half-cent sales tax would even help.

One benefit of a sales-tax increase is that it is spread out among a larger number of people, rather than just property owners or county residents. Many people who visit Grand Forks, for instance, use the county's infrastructure; a sales tax helps capture fees from those visitors, taking some of the burden off residents.

One person in the crowd said he did not see much traffic from other towns or areas coming into Grand Forks, or even much in terms of entertainment or tourist value to draw those people. Kyle Kvamme, Grand Forks City Council member and home rule charter committee member, said that notion was incorrect, citing concerts at the Alerus Center, UND hockey games and other events drawing in thousands of people from out of town.

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Falck also said he didn’t see a way for revenue projections for a half-cent sales tax to be too high.

“With football games (and) hockey games … it's difficult coming into the city, because it's like you're on a freeway when they're coming into town,” Falck said. “And they're staying here. They eat (and) they drink.”

Ford said the next town hall will likely be after a home rule survey — recently distributed by the county — closes on July 6. The survey's results will be presented at a meeting in July.

“I think that’s when we’ll look at another town hall meeting in Grand Forks, but then we want to get up to Larimore,” Ford said. “We want to get off to Northwood. We want to get out to Thompson as well and have these types of conversations. So as soon as the survey closes and we know what the survey results look like, that's when you're going to see more town halls (and) going out and visiting with people (and) just communicating to them what our needs are and what our intent is.”

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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