McFeely: Fargo, be upfront about flood taxFargo voters will be asked to approve a flood protection tax in June. City leaders have decided to see, in the wake of the Flood of 2009, if the people have the stomach for a half-cent sales tax that would live 20 years and raise $200 million. The proposal needs a 60 percent super-majority to pass.
By: Mike McFeely, INFORUM
Fargo voters will be asked to approve a flood protection tax in June. City leaders have decided to see, in the wake of the Flood of 2009, if the people have the stomach for a half-cent sales tax that would live 20 years and raise $200 million. The proposal needs a 60 percent super-majority to pass.
Officials were working last week on the language of the resolution that will be put before voters. The city commission will hash it over in a sunrise meeting Monday.
It’s expected the resolution will be specific. No, make that very specific.
That’s good, because it’s the only way the sales tax will pass.
If we’ve learned one thing about Fargo and Cass County’s appetite for sales tax increases, it’s that voters are willing to pay for things they view as necessary, but only if the resolution on which they’re voting is explicit.
In other words, no funny business. This is the Red River Valley, where common sense and fiscal conservatism rule. Superfluous and scatter-brained ideas have no chance.
History is the best indicator.
In recent years Fargo voters slammed not one, but two proposals that would have increased the city sales tax to help build hockey arenas. They also crushed a proposal to fund the Red River Zoo through a sales tax. Those ideas were seen as too narrowly focused. The most common response of those opposed went something like this: “If you so badly want a hockey arena, pay for it yourself.”
Cass County voters last year resoundingly defeated the idea of a sales tax to help fund economic development. There were myriad problems with the resolution, but the main one was that there was no specific point of investment for the money. Voters were asked to approve a vague proposition under the umbrella of so-called economic development, without precise targets. The result was 63 percent of the voters saying “no, thanks.”
Fargo’s sparkling new library, just opened Saturday, got 62 percent approval because the public saw a need and the ballot language was specific. Sales tax money was going to build a library. Period. The haranguing over the library came long after the vote, when local right-wingers painted it as a “boondoggle” in an attempt to smear then-commissioner Linda Coates.
The other recently successful sales tax initiative was the Cass County Jail. Again, a specific need specifically addressed.
That, too, will be the key to the flood tax vote. Those favoring the tax know that. That includes Commissioner Mike Williams, who’s carved his niche as a tax watchdog.
“It’s important to make sure voters know exactly what they are voting on. Voters here have been very good about approving needed projects,” Williams said. “To get this passed, we’re going to need a very well-defined measure. Voters need to know exactly what the money is going to be allocated for. … I don’t want other things thrown on top of it. That’s my message.”
Fargo voters certainly will have a strong appetite to fund flood protection. The key to getting their approval in June rests with city officials being upfront and showing the public exactly how the money will be spent.
Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. McFeely’s blog can be found at www.areavoices.com