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Published October 24, 2010, 12:38 AM

Group pushes for sales tax ‘yes’ vote

Counters No Blind Tax Committee’s call to nix half-percent tax in Cass
Supporters of a Cass County sales tax to help pay for a Red River diversion have started an ad blitz in The Forum, online and on radio stations that will run through the Nov. 2 election.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

Supporters of a Cass County sales tax to help pay for a Red River diversion have started an ad blitz in The Forum, online and on radio stations that will run through the Nov. 2 election.

Ads from the Coalition for Cass County Flood Protection are also being placed with the Cass County Recorder, West Fargo Pioneer and North Dakota State University Spectrum, said Bob Gramer of Fargo’s Multiple Media Consultants, which purchased the ads.

The ads urge voters to approve a half-percent countywide sales tax to pay for flood control projects. Supporters estimate the tax would raise $220 million over 20 years.

With the No Blind Tax Committee already calling for a “no” vote on the measure, “we felt that something needed to be done on the other side of the issue,” said Bryce Johnson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Fargo-Moorhead.

She said the coalition represents several thousand businesses.

A campaign contribution statement obtained from the Cass County auditor’s office shows that as of Thursday, the group has received $40,250 in contributions, spent nearly $33,000, and has about $7,400.

The group includes the HBA, Fargo Moorhead Area Association of Realtors, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, banks, engineering firms, and a mix of other companies and individuals, Johnson said.

The coalition doesn’t have a board, and no minutes are taken, she said. Representatives of various groups, including the executive directors of the chamber, Realtors group, Johnson, co-treasurers Bruce Furness and Robbie Quick and others have met at the HBA office, Johnson said.

Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the Cass County Commission, which put the sales tax on the ballot, said he took part in one meeting. He said no county money is being used in the ad campaign.

Johnson said the group has consulted with current and former government officials for information.

“The biggest concern is, if it doesn’t pass now, what are we going to do” to pay for flood control, Johnson said of the sales tax.

Quick and Furness agree.

“I live in Briarwood, and I know we need to move forward on it,” said Quick, a former Cass County commissioner.

She said a sales tax is a fair way to help pay for a diversion and other flood protection projects, and less onerous than special assessments or property taxes.

A failed flood fight would devastate the metro area and the region’s economy, former Fargo Mayor Furness said.

“I view it not simply as a protection for Fargo, but for the entire region,” he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pegs the North Dakota diversion cost at

$1.4 billion. The federal share would be $650 million, with the other $750 million coming from state and local governments.

About $100 million is expected to be the Minnesota share, with the state of North Dakota picking up half of the remaining amount, or $325 million.

Fargo has a half-percent sales tax in place that’s expected to raise $200 million over 20 years.

Money from both half-percent sales taxes could be used for other flood control projects, too, the “yes” group said.

A 100-year-flood event – called a 1 percent event by the Corps of Engineers – would mean a Red River stage of 42.4 feet in Fargo-Moorhead, the corps estimates. If water that high breaches levees in Fargo and Moorhead, damage could range between $4.7 billion to $5.7 billion,

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583