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Special assessment forums begin with high attendance

Attendance of the city's first open forum on special assessments was nearly at capacity.

West Fargo city spokeswoman Melissa Richard said about 45 residents visited the first of five special assessment forums on Thursday, Jan. 3. To keep the forums manageable, the city capped attendance at 50.

"I thought it went really well. I was extremely impressed with the number of people that showed up; it exceeded my expectations," Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said.

Gjerdevig asked city staff to begin organizing the forums in August, shortly after he was elected to his first term as a city commissioner in June. He said special assessments, the taxing process and communication from the city regarding special assessments were some of the most talked about issues on the campaign trail.

City Engineer Dustin Scott laid out the process of special assessment projects, while City Attorney presented attendees with some of the legal background of assessments. City Administrator Tina Fisk shared the financial benefits the taxing mechanism can sometimes have.

Gjerdevig said he found two main themes in feedback from meeting attendees. The first dealt with the city's communication process.

"It's not solely about communication; it's about being upfront in the process," he said. " There are people who feel they are sometimes surprised by [their special assessment bill]. Nobody should be surprised and feel like it's too late to do anything about it."

Gjerdevig said the second concern was the overall cost of assessments and dollars spent on projects.

"Oddly enough that seemed like second on the list," he said.

Richard said city staff made an effort to include how and when residents can protest or appeal special assessments.

"We made sure to highlight the steps where they can make their voices heard," Richard said.

Richard said a "silver bullet" hasn't been presented from residents on how to streamline the process or lower assessments; instead most attending wanted the city to know its residents are engaged and want to find better solutions.

Four more special assessment forums are planned for:

• 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10: Flame of Faith United Methodist Church (1222 Sixth Street E.)

• 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14: Legacy Elementary School (5150 Ninth St. W.)

• 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17: Eventide at Sheyenne Crossings (225 13th Ave. W.)

• 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28: Brooks Harbor Elementary School (801 22nd Ave. W.)

Richard is compiling comments and data from all five meetings and will present the City Commission with feedback from the forums at a February meeting.

To sign up for the forums or provide feedback online,visit westfargond.gov/267/Special-Assessments.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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