FARGO — A proposal to put up to $15 million in county funding for a proposed career workforce academy on the June 9 primary election ballot was knocked down recently as Cass County Commissioners expressed varying views on the issue.
Commissioner Rick Steen said he didn't know enough about the proposed trade school for area students and adults to support such a vote.
"I think it would be irresponsible for us to put it up for a vote without more information," Steen said at the March 16 meeting.
He said an executive board working on the academy that includes Commissioners Ken Pawluk and Chad Peterson, who volunteered for the seats on the panel, should provide the information needed.
Pawluk, who asked that the vote proposal be put on the agenda, said he wanted to make sure that the public had a chance to decide on the funding.
"I'm not willing to commit the taxpayers to this without their consent," Pawluk said. "It deserves to be on the ballot."
However, other commissioners thought they should consider putting it on the November general election ballot after more information becomes available.
Commissioner Duane Breitling said such a vote would currently likely go down to a "substantial defeat" and would tie the commission's hands on possible future support for the project.
He also said Gov. Doug Burgum proposed providing state funding for such facilities in the last legislative session and likely would again in the coming session.
State Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner recently said they are considering allocating portions of the state's $6.9 billion Legacy Fund made up of oil and gas tax revenue for career and technical education across the state. He said it could possibly be used for various aspects of workforce education, including programming or even buildings.
The Cass County academy has procured nearly half the $30 million needed to begin construction southwest of Fargo at 45th Street South and 64th Avenue South. Private backers of the academy asked the county to provide the remaining $15 million. The county has already provided $800,000 in the budget to study the issue.
Peterson said the executive committee is meeting every other week and that in a few months more concrete plans will likely be available.
He also agreed voters likely would defeat the current "fluffy, feel good" plan on the academy until details such as the building costs and operating budgets are prepared. If it's voted upon, residents would likely be asked to decide if they would support bonding for the project or to dedicate mills on the property tax bill for the academy.
June ballot measures
The county commission approved one measure to put on the June 9 ballot, and there may also be a second.
One proposal would no longer require department heads to live in Cass County, which would be a change to the county's home rule charter.
Commissioner Mary Scherling said 60% of Clay County's county workforce lives in Cass County. She said the neighbors across the river also spend "a lot of money on sales taxes" in the county.
"This is long overdue," she said. The commissioners voted 5-0 to advance the issue to the June 9 ballot.
Another issue that could be on the ballot and will be looked at the next few weeks is a possible clarification about term limits for commissioners. Steen said he had been told by a member who worked on the home rule charter that he thought the term limit meant commissioners could only serve three terms.
However, State's Attorney Birch Burdick said he had an opinion a few years back with "no hesitation" that the charter said a commissioner could only serve three "successive" terms, which would mean they could sit out a term and then run again.
Pawluk, who is running for a fourth term after sitting out a term, said he thought the charter made it clear and left "no question" that a person could again seek a spot on the board if they sat out. He was appointed last year to serve for a year to fill out the term of the late long-term commissioner Vern Bennett.
Pawluk said he supports the three-term limit, but that a person could run again just like in the city of Fargo. Steen, however, wondered if it didn't need clarification.
Any ballot question for the June election would have to be determined by the commission's next regular meeting on April 6.