WEST FARGO --A forum for mayoral and city commission candidates here kicked off with the question of whether or not special assessments should be lowered or eliminated in West Fargo, a hot topic metro candidates have been hearing about from residents.
The candidate forum, hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber, gathered Mayor Rich Mattern and his challenger, Bernie Dardis, along with Incumbent Commissioner Duane Hanson candidates Eric Gjerdevig and Brad Olson at West Fargo City Hall Thursday, June 7.
While the candidates agreed the city should be looking at ways to keep special assessments low, Dardis said initial special assessment discussions should not take place publicly.
"The thing we need to do in West Fargo is be ever present and aware of what surrounding communities are doing, but we're in West Fargo," Dardis said. "Those discussions should never take place in front a microphone, or a camera or on a talk show." Dardis said the discussions should begin with city staff, then the city should initiate conversations with builders and realtors.
Mattern pointed to the city's recently passed comprehensive plan to address alleviation or lowering special assessments. He said special assessments have a place in new developments, but issues arise when trying to replace aging infrastructure in an aging part of town.
He said the key to keeping special assessments low is to expand current businesses and add new businesses in order to add more sales tax revenue to the community. West Fargo passed a 1-cent sales tax in 2014 to help pay for infrastructure.
"None of us like special assessments. The city has an obligation to manage the special assessments to the lowest possible," Gjerdevig said. "In credit to the current commission, I think they strive to do that, but there are a few flaws."
Hanson said it's not an easy fix, or it would have been fixed a long time ago. "I believe we can definitely think outside the box and find a way to lower those burdens on some of the people," Hanson said.
Candidates said they are supportive of the West Fargo Police Department, which has been led by Chief Heith Janke since last summer.
Candidates also agreed in support of the FM Diversion project.
"I'm an advocate of the diversion," Dardis said. "I've seen what it has done for this community."
However, Dardis said if West Fargo was to be ordered to pay special assessments, he would not support it, a statement echoed by the other candidates.
Candidates said they support the West Fargo School District's decision to ask voters to pass a $106.9 million bond referendum to build a third high school and middle school as well as additions to elementary schools, safety measures and artificial turf at all three high schools.
Commissioner Candidate Brad Olson said he supports the bond, but he would like the district to explain some of the items that would be paid for such as turf.
"What is really needed here, classroom space or additional space," Olson said. "Hopefully the school board can do a good job of explaining why they need the extra money."
Voters will decide on June 12 to elect Mattern to a fifth term or businessman Dardis to a first term. Voters will choose two candidates among Olson, Gjerdevig and Hanson to fill two commission seats. Commissioner Mark Wentz decided not to run for reelection.