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Preliminary work moves forward on proposed water treatment plant

West Fargo City Commissioners agreed Monday night to move forward with working language to place a one percent sales tax on the ballot in June 2010 that would be dedicated to fund a water treatment plant that will service the city.

With the preliminary draft now in on a proposed plant from Advanced Engineeing (AE2S), based out of Fargo, City Administrator Jim Brownlee made the request for commissioners to get the ball rolling to place the sales tax increase on the next general election ballot so a special vote doesn't have to be taken on the matter at an added expense to the city.

About a year ago, the city contracted with AE2S to conduct a study at a cost of approximately $250,000 for a proposed plant. The city is paying for the study as a budgeted item out of the water and sewer fund.

The need for the water treatment plant stems from the fact that the city is draining the aquifer that presently supplies West Fargo with water. Brownlee explained that the North Dakota Department of Health won't issue any more permits to the city to take water out of the aquifer. "Because we are taking too much out, and they are worried it will become depleted to meet our increasing demand, we have to go to an alternative source of water."

Brownlee emphasized Monday night that the document received from AE2S is still the preliminary draft and that considerable discussion needs to follow both with commissioners and the public. "This is just the draft report. There are no specifics in place. Everything needs to be formulated as far as design, location, what type of plant will be built, all of that still needs to be discussed and decided. And then a funding package needs to be put together." Total estimated cost for such a plant has been estimated at $40-$60 million.

Emphasis was also placed on the fact there needs to be enough time allocated to provide sufficient public information so citizens are kept aware of the entire process from start to finish.

The city had indicated when the initial study was implemented that a sales tax increase might be the route to go to fund the project. "We're talking tens of millions of dollars," Brownlee said, "so I think the sales tax is the way to go."

Mayor Rich Mattern said "We've been talking about the sales tax for quite some time. We certainly would have several public meetings to inform the public."

City Engineer Kevin Bucholz said an optimistic goal to complete a water treatment plant would be three to five years from design to actually up and running.

He also agreed before that happens, several areas have to be addressed. "We need to look at the overall plan for the best needs of the citizens of West Fargo."

Bucholz added it would be nice to 'get the go ahead' from the city commission so those involved could look at a time frame and get a plan laid out.

Brownlee said that right now the West Fargo sales tax sits at 1 percent. A number of cities around the state are presently at 2 percent, and one, Medora, is at 2 ½ percent. Fargo is presently at a 1 ½ percent sales tax.

An extra one percent sales tax for West Fargo would generate approximately an additional $2 million a year.

Brownlee added it would take an ordinance change, and a change to the city's Home Rule Charter to accomplish the sales tax, since West Fargo's present Home Rule charter limits the amount to 1 percent. A vote is needed to change the Home Rule Charter.

Mattern said he thinks it is a good idea that city staff starts looking at a plan for a water treatment plant, with other commissioners agreeing that staff should move forward on the matter and report back to the board at a future meeting.