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State of the city sounds

West Fargo's financial status remains strong even during harsher economic times due to a balanced budget in 2009 and conservative spending by the city commission and city staff, West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said during the annual state of the city address presented during Monday night's regular City Commission meeting.

The year also played a factor in the "remarkable growth" the city has been experiencing over the last decade, with the population taking an 80 percent hike since 2000, rising from 14,940 to an estimated 26,800.

This growth was supported by an increase in new residential dwelling units at 221, compared with 152 units in 2008. Overall building permit valuation for the year was $57.8 million, of which $36 million (62 percent) was residential and $18.5 million (32 percent) was commercial.

Mattern cited the Ninth Street Interchange and ramps, as well as completion of the first phase of Main Avenue reconstruction, among the "great projects" realized during the course of the year, with the former now providing "tremendous opportunities for future growth in the residential and commercial sectors."

He lauded the assessing department, stating they reviewed 750 homes, which was double what the department was able to complete in each of the previous two years.

Mattern said that the "gloomy national economy" did impact West Fargo, noting the layoff at two "marquee businesses," DMI and Bobcat, adding "I'm confident they will start to hire again as the tight credit crunch ends and the economy starts to build again."

Mentioning the likely possibility of area flooding, Mattern said he is "very confident the Horace and Sheyenne Diversions will once again do the job. Our city staff has been working on more than 60 action items to make sure we are well prepared for any eventuality. Staff also is meeting with representatives of other communities and the county to offer assistance, if needed. The school and park districts have told me they also will provide resources, such as building space, if the need arises."

Mattern said emphasis will be given to upcoming projects that will also positively affect the city, including: arriving at the best way to build a water treatment plant; construction on a new police-fire satellite facility south of the Interstate, with groundbreaking set for this spring; and a study with the Metropolitan Council of Government focusing on the downtown areas in and around Main Avenue to develop a reinvestment strategy.

Addressing the water treatment plant, Mattern said he believes a regional approach is the best alternative. "We will be contacting other cities and Cass Rural Water about a regional approach to building a plant. We also are in discussions with the city of Fargo about joining us so that city can use more Sheyenne River water. City staff feels they need more time to look at all the possibilities, so they feel we should hold off on any vote for a sales tax increase this year," an idea that was proposed earlier for the June 8 election to help pay for a water treatment facility.

Mattern concluded that the city has faced challenges during its growth, "but these are positive challenges that are the envy of many a city across the region. Together, we will face those challenges. I'm very confident that West Fargo, in the future, will remain a "city on the grow."

Commissioners Mike Thorstad, Lou Bennett, Bryan Schulz and Mark Simmons also provided comments regarding activities involving the respective city portfolios they oversee.

Thorstad applauded the sanitation department, mentioning an increased recycling effort by citizens, as well as pointing out the increased activity at the West Fargo Public Library. Bennett provided an overview of the sewer and water system, speaking about future water treatment facility plans; Schulz presented an outline of police and fire department activity; while Simmons praised the street department and its employees for their recent "snow" efforts, also mentioning plans are in the works for a second round of stimulus funding that, if received, would be used to install traffic signals and replace street lights.

In other action, the commission:

-placed on first reading a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow the West Fargo Animal Hospital to have small domestic pets at a proposed new facility on an overnight basis for diagnostic testing, etc., as a conditionally permitted use in the light commercial zoning district;

-approved a Yard Restoration program with a cap of up to $2,000 for residents filing a property claim for property damage caused in the construction of primary and contingency protection levees or restoring ground elevations to predamage conditions that might need to be implemented during a potential 2010 flood;

-awarded the bid for Sidewalk Improvement District No. 6047 for a multi-use path on 40th Ave. S. from Sheyenne Street to 9th Street West to Adelman Concrete and Excavating of West Fargo with a low bid of $247,238.20. The contract will be awarded through the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, March 15, at 5:30 p.m., at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.