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Fargo-Moorhead sets sales tax vote for November

A vote on a new half-percent sales tax to pay for permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead can wait until November. That was the decision Monday in separate votes by the Cass County Commission and Fargo City Commission, both of which last we...

A vote on a new half-percent sales tax to pay for permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead can wait until November.

That was the decision Monday in separate votes by the Cass County Commission and Fargo City Commission, both of which last week had planned to take the issue to voters in June.

But plans for a June vote were put in doubt by an impasse between the two commissions over which government - the city or county - would impose the new sales tax.

The deadlock was broken by an agreement between Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the county commission.

Both signed a memorandum of understanding to hold off on a sales tax vote until November.

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In the meantime, both the county and city agree to work on a funding solution for a $1.3 billion diversion channel to be built in North Dakota.

Cass County commissioners unanimously approved the deal, agreeing the extra time would help to clarify the amount of federal funding available for the project, which could well take a decade to complete.

The Fargo commission vote, also unanimous, followed a few hours later.

"I think there's a very major role for the county to play in making the diversion a reality for our citizens," said Commissioner Scott Wagner, adding that a partnership with the city will be required.

"This can't be a city-of-Fargo-only project, and I'm not saying that's the position of the city of Fargo," Wagner added.

Information important

"All we've done is postpone the decision," Walaker said. "But I think we'll have more information. I think that's important. That's why I agreed to sign the agreement."

Walaker said he would rather have gotten the local financing firmed up now.

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"I still think it's time to do this now. I made that concession," Walaker said, adding, "The majority of people are tired (of fighting floods). They're as tired as the rest of us."

"We realized that there's a lot of pieces of the puzzle that are not done," Fargo Commissioner Tim Mahoney said. It's agreed the public wants to hear one clear plan, he said.

"Hopefully, by November, we'll have a pretty good plan," he said. "It's pretty important to know what the price tag is."

One tax put to use

Fargo voters approved a half-percent sales tax for permanent flood control projects last June. It went into effect Jan. 1 and is expected to bring in $200 million over 20 years.

It puts the city's total sales tax at 7 percent, with 5 percent going to the state.

Fargo has already bonded $27.5 million against the tax. Some of it has been used for home buyouts, and more than $10 million in projects are either under way or on tap to improve flood protection in the city in the next couple of years, documents from the engineering and finance departments show.

Another $2 million in work is being considered for a subdivision just outside of the city limits, City Engineer Mark Bittner said Monday.

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Vanyo said the agreement to hold off on a vote stemmed from two meetings with Pat Zavoral, Fargo's city administrator, after a meeting last Tuesday between the city and county ended in deadlock over which government would levy the tax.

After the meeting, Vanyo said, Zavoral called and invited Vanyo to return to City Hall to try to resolve the dispute. They failed to reach agreement, and met again the next day.

Still unable to agree Wednesday, Zavoral and Vanyo decided the best course would be to propose an agreement to delay taking the issue to voters, but pledge in writing to work toward a funding solution.

Later that day, Vanyo presented a draft of a written agreement, which he signed and left for Walaker's consideration. Both leaders had signed the agreement, dated last Wednesday, when the proposal was presented Monday afternoon to the Cass County Commission.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

Related Topics: 2010 FLOODSMOORHEAD
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