Cass County Commission chairman clarifies e-mail about half-cent sales taxCass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo says a claim made last week that the county engineer may have promised to use proceeds from the proposed half-cent sales tax for flood protection to build a road was a misinterpretation of an e-mail message.
By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM
Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo says a claim made last week that the county engineer may have promised to use proceeds from the proposed half-cent sales tax for flood protection to build a road was a misinterpretation of an e-mail message.
Former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren, co-chairman of the No Blind Tax Committee opposing the tax, first raised the issue on Thursday.
It stems from a Sept. 16 e-mail from County Engineer Keith Berndt to a resident in the Forest River Estates subdivision south of Fargo.
In the message, Berndt addressed repairs to Forest River Drive.
“I’ve had Houston Engineering under contract to design a plan that would incorporate flood protection into the road reconstruction by elevating 76th Avenue and adding a levee adjacent to Forest River Drive,” the message stated.
“This is a significant sized project that will need to be considered amongst the other priorities for sales tax projects.”
In a letter to Vanyo, Lindgren raised concerns that Berndt “might have made a political plea for support of the sales tax measure” and that allowing sales tax money to be used for roads that double as water diversion projects “opens the door for all the money to be used for roads.”
Vanyo said Berndt explained that the sales tax reference applied only to the levee – a ring dike around 27 homes – and not the raising of 76th Avenue, which is needed because there’s not enough room for a levee next to the road.
The county already has federal funds authorized for the 76th Avenue raise, Vanyo said. Berndt said Vanyo’s summary of his response was accurate.
Lindgren said if Berndt was indeed referring only to the levee, then he’s satisfied. However, he added, “I am still concerned that he seemed to be using his position as a county employee to build support for the sales tax with his reference to the possible availability of that money.”
Vanyo referred to a county policy adopted in August that states the sales tax money may be spent on a Red River diversion and “other flood-risk reduction or recovery projects” subject to funding availability and commission approval.
Asked if that may include road projects that have a flood protection benefit, Vanyo again referred to the policy, which states project plans should be prepared by a professional engineer.
“If I lead anyone to believe in the slightest 1 percent chance that a road project could be used, it’s going to be misleading to the public because we aren’t intending to use it for road projects, period,” Vanyo said. “Now, if it ties into something that’ll be studied by engineers, then it’ll be brought to our commission. But I think it’s premature to start trying to get anyone to acknowledge that even those would be considered.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528