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$205,200 proposed for light displays at GF City Council meeting

Grand Forks city leaders are talking about buying new holiday lighting to beautify city streets this winter, but some on the City Council are balking at the $205,200 price tag.

Grand Forks city leaders are talking about buying new holiday lighting to beautify city streets this winter, but some on the City Council are balking at the $205,200 price tag.

For that kind of money, Grand Forks would become a city of light, with displays along all the major thoroughfares and downtown, which will see existing displays kicked up a notch.

The general theme would be snowflakes, generic enough to stay up all winter instead of going down after Christmas.

The city would also encourage home and business owners to put up their own displays with a contest.

"This would be another reason to visit Grand Forks in the winter," council member Curt Kreun said.

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The money would come from a portion of sales taxes set aside for beautification. The city still has $215,000 left over from last year in the fund.

In the past, the city has used the fund to install a new welcome sign on Gateway Drive and put a fresh coat of paint on the fences blocking the junkyards from public view.

Alternate uses

But, as council member Mike McNamara confirmed, there's nothing to stop the council from putting the money to some other use. He was coy about what other use, though, referring to "hypothetical" uses that may come up during future budget discussions.

Council member Terry Bjerke, a fellow fiscal hawk, said he would vote against the spending.

Other than the ¾-percent set aside for the Alerus Center, the remaining 1 percent city sales tax goes to streets and sewers, property tax reduction and economic development, which is where beautification fits.

Conceivably, the beautification money could go toward reducing property taxes further, something Bjerke prefers.

Unlike other taxes, sales taxes are paid by city residents and outsiders. If the lighting attracted visitors, as Kreun said, that could mean more sales tax revenues.

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The breakdown

If the council does agree to the lighting program though, here's how it would spend the $205,200:

Downtown would get $49,500 for more displays similar to the snowflakes-theme displays it now has. City staff justified the relatively high funding for the district by noting that it gets a lot of traffic and is pedestrian friendly so displays there would have a greater impact.

Gateway Drive would get $16,000, with displays at key intersections.

North Washington Street would get $40,000 for unique displays, including an animated train on the railroad overpass.

South Washington Street would get $19,200, with displays at key intersections.

DeMers Avenue would get $42,700, with displays at intersections and on the Columbia Road overpass. City staff said the corridor gets heavy traffic but it moves too quickly to be easily appreciated.

Columbia Road and 32nd Avenue South would get $27,800, with displays at key intersections and Apollo Field.

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The remaining amount is a 5 percent contingency in case of cost overruns.

Meredith Richards, a city community development officer, said that, in each case, the aim is to focus money on a few displays that have a "wow factor."

What's not included is the cost of putting up the displays and the electricity, though the displays do use energy efficient LEDs.

Council member Curt Kreun said the street department does tend to get the call for many of these jobs and he'd like to see it get more funding.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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