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Our view: Vote ‘yes’ on Grand Forks County’s home rule, sales tax proposals

The time has come to bring Grand Forks County under home rule. As infrastructure continues to erode, the county’s residents must commit to fixing things like roads and culverts, the Grand Forks County Correctional Center and the county’s juvenile detention center.

Herald pull quote, 11/5/22
Herald graphic
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Of the arguments being made about home rule, two stand out:

  1. That upgrades and fixes are needed for county infrastructure and buildings,
  2. and somebody’s got to pay for it. 

At present, it looks like it’s going to be property owners. The Grand Forks County Commission already has increased property taxes.
But a proposed countywide sales tax will help. If enacted, the new half-cent tax (per dollar) would generate an estimated $5 million annually, and be used to help offset some of the costs of the planned upgrades. Then, county commissioners promise, property taxes could be lowered.

In addition, the new tax would spread the burden of paying for those repairs to everyone who uses county infrastructure, including the thousands of visitors who come to Grand Forks each year.

On Tuesday, Grand Forks County voters will be asked two questions related to home rule.

First, they’ll decide whether the county should join 12 others in the state – generally the most populated counties – that have enacted home rule charters. According to a committee pushing the proposal, home rule would mean Grand Forks County could:

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  • Enact a sales tax, but only after a vote of county residents;
  • Limit members of County Commission to three terms;
  • Pursue and adopt new ordinances, after two public hearings;
  • Refer, or recall, actions of the County Commission to a vote of the people.

Along with that question, voters will be asked to decide the fate of that proposed half-cent tax, which cannot be enacted without home rule and also without gaining the approval of voters.
The time has come to bring Grand Forks County under home rule. As infrastructure continues to erode, the county’s residents must commit to fixing things like roads and culverts, the Grand Forks County Correctional Center and the county’s juvenile detention center.

Not everybody agrees, and some are quite leery of the proposal.

“People I talk to about home rule aren’t too fond of it, mostly because of the increase of taxes. Yes, the mill levies can go down, but there's nothing that would say they won’t go back up,” County Commission candidate Kimberly Hagen said during a recent forum.

We appreciate that concern and have considered a number of views from those who say home rule could create more government and without any hard promise to lower taxes. This has been a good and thorough debate.

But the timing is right, especially as the community continues its climb out of the pandemic’s ugly financial shadow. Just last week, the Herald reported that city sales-tax collections in September broke a single-month record.

Also, rising property taxes are statewide news. In February, Gov. Doug Burgum called on local governments to try to slow the increase in property tax rates.

“Everybody calls their state legislator and says ‘Do something about property taxes.’ We have to fix the problem at the local level,” Burgum, a Republican, said during his State of the State address.

And during a recent debate among District 43 legislative candidates, incumbent Democrat Zach Ista said that as he campaigns, “the No. 1 concern (among constituents) is property taxes.”

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So let’s do something about it – right here, at the local level, as Gov. Burgum suggests.

On Tuesday, vote to approve home rule and also vote to enact the new half-cent sales tax.

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