OUR OPINION: Best chance for GF library: A temporary tax increase
Fargo needed a new library. Grand Forks needs a new library. To pay for its new library, Fargo proposed a sales tax increase. Last week, Grand Forks' mayor proposed a sales tax increase to pay for our new library. In Fargo, the sales tax referend...
Fargo needed a new library. Grand Forks needs a new library.
To pay for its new library, Fargo proposed a sales tax increase. Last week, Grand Forks' mayor proposed a sales tax increase to pay for our new library.
In Fargo, the sales tax referendum passed with 62 percent of the vote.
In Grand Forks ...
Will history repeat itself and lead to the decisive passage of a sales tax increase in Grand Forks?
Maybe. The library project is exciting and popular. Clearly, the Grand Forks Public Library benefits from a deep reservoir of good will.
But there are crucial differences between the Fargo tax and the one proposed in Grand Forks. The community should be fully aware of the differences because if there is anything that puts the passage of the tax hike at risk, this probably is it:
The Fargo sales tax increase was temporary. It lasted only 18 months.
In addition, the money raised was dedicated to the library and wasn't used for anything else.
In contrast, the Grand Forks tax increase would be permanent. And while some of the money it raised would go to the library, the rest would be spent on other things. A new water treatment plant is one possibility.
Here's another difference, this one in Grand Forks' favor: The sizes of the tax hikes. The vote in Fargo raised sales taxes by a half cent, whereas the Grand Forks proposal would bump up sales taxes by a quarter cent.
So, the question is this:
Where does the balance wind up? Could Grand Forks voters be convinced to support a permanent quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for a new library and other pieces of much-needed infrastructure?
That's a hard question to answer. It's early yet, only a few days after the mayor made his proposal. But right now, it seems like the vote could go either way.
And that's too much uncertainty.
Grand Forks needs a new library. That goal is an end in itself. If in order to build the new library, Grand Forks proposes a temporary sales tax increase, then the odds are good that voters will agree -- as happened in Fargo.
But if the library is just one of several proposals wrapped up in a permanent tax increase, then the odds fall. Voters may not want to pay for other projects or permanently boost the city's revenue stream. The library's status as one project among many dilutes its power and makes it easier for casual supporters to vote no.
Judging by the current tax climate and the failure of previous attempts to raise the sales tax, there's a fair chance a new proposal also would fail. The rejection would kill or wound the library project, too.
That's too great a risk.
Grand Forks needs a new library, and to pay for it, the method most likely to win voters' support is a temporary sales tax increase. As recently as two weeks ago, that's the method library officials themselves favored: "When it comes time to seek funding to expand the Grand Forks Public Library, officials here are looking to the game plan used by friends of the Fargo library," Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran reported Feb. 11.
The Fargo plan involved a fundraising campaign "and a referendum on a dedicated tax."
Grand Forks also needs a new water treatment plant. But that's a separate problem, and city officials should tackle it separately. It may well require a tax hike of some kind; if it does, city officials should make that separate case.
Voters respond best to such direct, open and targeted appeals.
Does Grand Forks need a new library? Yes. Does Grand Forks need a permanent sales tax increase? That's a separate question, one that voters may very well answer "no." What a shame it would be if that response answered the library question, too.T