West Fargo City Commissioners said it's not fair to expect their taxpayers to contribute the same amount of funding toward a regional Career Workforce Academy as a city the size of Fargo, where the school will be located.
The project is a collaborative between the school districts of Fargo, West Fargo, Northern Cass, Central Cass and North Dakota State College of Science in an effort to build a roughly $30 million Career Workforce Academy that would offer education to those from kindergarten to an associate degree.
The group is hoping to raise $15 million from public funding and $15 million in private donations, of which they have received $11.47 million so far.
Cass County has pledged about $5 million so far. However, the group planned to ask the city of West Fargo to pledge an additional $1.25 million at its Monday, July 6, meeting and to ask the city of Fargo for $1.5 million next Monday.
"Why are West Fargo taxpayers asked to pay significantly more per capita than any other public entity," West Fargo Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said. "I would just roughly say it should be a 3 to 1 match."
Gjerdevig pointed out that West Fargo has less than 40,000 residents while the city of Fargo is home to more than 124,000. He said Fargo's tax base is three times higher than West Fargo. He also cited the proposed location for the school would be in the city of Fargo, near 45th Street and 64th Avenue South. The additional development in that area will provide Fargo with even more commercial tax base, Gjerdevig said.
"It makes sense to me the school districts are contributing a similar fashion," he said. "But it doesn't seem to be the right thing as a West Fargo taxpayer."
Commissioner Mark Simmons said the residents of West Fargo would be contributing to the school at least three times: through the West Fargo School District, Cass County's contribution as well as the $800,000 in economic development sales tax contribution the city made to the Fueling the Future program, which is touted as a program to help build this academy for the future workforce.
"(What) you're getting from county, that is our tax dollars and you want from us again," Simmons said. "Fueling our Future, that is our tax dollars. It's like we're being charged four times for the same process. I don't know how we can justify that."
Simmons added he is already looking into the city's 2021 budget and the mill levy may need to be increased as well, adding to the taxpayer burden.
"I support the academy; It's just the wrong time," Simmons said. "We have a lot of bills in the city. I don't know how we can afford this."
However, timing is crucial for the academy group. They plan to apply for a federal matching grant that would provide an additional $5 million for the school.
"The grant opportunity closes in July," John Richman, NDSCS President said. "That's $5 million at stake. We are all going to have make compromises."
Gjerdevig, as well as the other commissioners said they support the academy but the group needs to make it fair for West Fargoans.
"The ask to Fargo needs to be higher, the ask to West Fargo needs to be less," Gjerdevig said.
Richman said their request will be brought to the Fargo City Commission at its July 13 meeting.
Monday, the commission agreed to pledge $800,000 from the city's economic development sales tax over five years, provided Fargo commits to giving $1.95 million over five years.
"The grand total is the same but gets the amounts more proportionate based on population," Gjerdevig said.
The motion was approved with only Simmons voting no.
Richman said the academy would provide not just an additional educational opportunity for students, but it would create additional workforce training and provide the region with a skilled workforce that will enhance the area economy.