FARGO - City commissioners voted "yes" Monday night to a special assessment that would guarantee funding for the flood diversion, which means there are enough votes for the assessment to pass.
The city had 189 million votes out of 759 million, where every vote represents a dollar of liability when bonds are issued to fund the diversion.
Commissioners voted 3-1, with the critical swing vote cast by Mike Williams, who reluctantly voted "yes" with acting Mayor Tim Mahoney and Melissa Sobolik.
Williams said constituents who contacted him want flood protection, but they're confused by how the special assessment is set up and he himself still had some questions.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was the lone "no" vote. He called the voting method "almost un-American" because it only included property owners and because the vote is stacked in the city and Cass County's favor.
Cass County commissioners, who have 243 million votes, cast their unanimous "yes" votes mid-March. Together, that gives the "yes" side 57 percent of the vote before any private property owner or other government entity weighs in. The city of West Fargo, with 45 million votes, is expected to vote next week.
Property owners have 242 million votes, which is just a third of the total votes.
City staff told commissioners Monday that the special assessment is the best way to fund the proposed $1.8 billion Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project. The city and the county plan to repay bonds with sales tax revenues, but investors don't like bonds guaranteed with sales taxes. They prefer bonds guaranteed with property taxes, such as special assessments.
If sales tax revenues plummet, it is possible special assessments will be needed.
The voting method that has Piepkorn so incensed is prescribed by state law for water projects such as flood control. Votes are divvied out according to liability, meaning the amount of the special assessment. Cass County has taken on the greatest liability with $242 million for county government and nearly $2 million for county-owned properties. The city of Fargo has the second greatest liability with $185 million for city government and $4 million for city-owned properties.
A homeowner like Williams might have $2,300. Those who don't own property have no liability and, therefore, no votes.
The special assessment vote won't be known until after April 30, when all votes are due at the Cass County Joint Water Resource District. The district is the local government entity that was formed to issue the bonds and, if necessary, levy the special assessments.
About that ballot
Most Cass County property owners whose properties benefit directly from the flood diversion will have received their ballots in the mail.
If they vote "yes," they're saying they want the Cass County Joint Water Resource District to guarantee a bond for the diversion with a special assessment on their property.
The dollar amount on the ballot is what the district calls "the full maximum assessment," meaning if the water district has zero dollars from sales taxes to repay the bond, that's how much it would ask the property owner to pay. As the district repays the bond, it will lower the special assessment amount.
The number of votes each property owner has is the same as the full maximum assessment. That means an owner with a $2,300 assessment has 2,300 votes out of a total of 759 million votes available. The water resource district wants the ability to issue bonds worth as much as $759 million, though it doesn't expect to do so if enough state and federal funds are available.
Ballots are due at the water district office by 5 p.m. April 30.
On the Web: For more info go to bit.ly/1yppr2A.