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Commission updated on sales tax proposal

Proponents for implementing a half cent sales tax in order to fund economic development growth that will keep existing jobs and bring in new businesses were present at the Monday night West Fargo City Commission meeting to review the initiated sales tax proposal, voicing their support and touting its benefits if passed by Cass County voters in the June 10 election.

Brad Schmidt, head of the West Fargo Economic Development Advisory Committee, provided a brief overview of the proactive plan aimed at new growth and the outline for implementation, if approved.

The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation designed the growth plan after months of research and meetings with local businesses, academic professionals and citizens. It calls for planned, strategic targeted investments in infrastructure and people, with the focus on core knowledge infrastructure, entrepreneurial infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure, air service, and K-12 STEM strategies. This new economic development model creates a critical mass of talent that brings the jobs to the area and keeps the residents rather than sending talented people somewhere else for jobs.

"I believe this plan is good for our community," Schmidt said. Mentioning West Fargo specifically and the talk of a water treatment plant, infrastructure needs and schools, Schmidt said, "I know West Fargo has their plate full, but we have to look out for the greater good of the whole community. I believe this plan has tremendous opportunities."

He noted that a lot of accountability is built into the plan, which has the Cass County Commission as the third and final level of approval. "If this funding is approved, every dime has to be accountable," Schmidt added.

The tax would cost families making an income of $40,000 to $50,000 approximately $47 a year, and projections indicate the tax could raise about $9.4 million the first year with a four percent increase in each consecutive year.

If approved, the tax is proposed to run for 12 years from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2020.

Taxable items would include such items as clothing, furniture and electronics, but excludes groceries, medication, homes and automobiles.

Schmidt said sales taxes for economic development are common, with several other communities having already adopted taxes including Jamestown, Valley City, Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks.

The commission didn't take any formal position following the presentation, because state law doesn't allow government employees to support or oppose measures initiated by citizens.

Commissioners also briefly discussed preliminary reports on the $16,000 feasibility study conducted on a proposed golf course on about 200 acres of land donated by developers in Westport Beach, at Sheyenne Street and 52nd Ave. W.

The initial findings show a substantial projected loss over the first ten years.

The commission opted to further discuss the issue once the final report is received. City Administrator Jim Brownlee was directed to contact HVS Golf Services of Boulder, Colo., for the complete study.

The commission approved the study last year by a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Brenda Warren voting 'no,' saying the city faced more important needs. The commission agreed to fund $2,500 of the fee with developers picking up the rest.

Brownlee said construction costs would not be the concern if a golf course were ultimately approved; his concern would be the operation and maintenance.

Warren said that the city will have to decide how valuable this is and right now she feels that what the developers are proposing is not a good deal.

Mayor Rich Mattern said that he felt the discussion was speculation right now. "I'd recommend we wait until final numbers are in."

Brownlee said he would secure copies of the final report if they are complete and distribute a copy to each commissioner.

In other action, the commission:

-okayed a conditional use permit for a concrete crushing and stockpiling on property owned by Mike Staber on the south side of 8th Ave. NW and to the west of County Highway 19. The operation is being relocated from a previously approved site in The Yards Second Addition. In order to stockpile crushed concrete on the site, a CUP is required. The proposed use is consistent with city plans and ordinances for a heavy industrial use area.

-approved second reading and gave final plat approval on the rezoning of Christianson 1st Addition from agricultural to planned unit development. The property is located south of I-94 and west of Sheyenne Street. The applicant, Kevin Christianson, wants to subdivide and rezone the property to accommodate commercial types of land uses;

-tabled three bids for video recording equipment for city commission meetings until further research can be done on the equipment involved, with each bid and decisions made on what other areas the system could be used for.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, June 2, in the Commission Chamber at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.