FARGO — Fargo’s City Commission had another heated exchange over special assessments and city fund transfers at Monday night’s meeting, with Mayor Tim Mahoney and Commissioner Dave Piepkorn calling out Commissioner Tony Gehrig for an earlier statement.
Mahoney and Piepkorn told Gehrig they took offense to a statement he made at a previous commission meeting when Gehrig called some of the city's transfer of funds from other city accounts to the general fund "money laundering."
This time, Gehrig was upset about the 1% that is tacked onto special assessments for property owners to cover potential delinquencies in payments. The special assessments, which Gehrig in the past has called the "most hated" bill by city residents, are used in part to help pay a share of city reconstruction and construction projects for streets, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure work.
Gehrig made a motion to change it to 0%, but couldn't get a second.
Gehrig said he couldn't find any delinquencies on city specials. On top of that, he said the city was transferring that money set aside in special assessment funds to cover delinquencies to the general fund every year.
"That's very sneaky," he said.
Mahoney immediately responded and said he rejected that characterization.
"You talk about money laundering ... those things are all false," the mayor said.
Piepkorn went further and said when a city commissioner "says things it means things," insinuating Gehrig should watch what he says.
Piepkorn said if this is sneaky "why is it in public budget documents" for everyone to see. He then told Gehrig, "If this is money laundering, bring on the investigation or shut up."
Mahoney said the city was following state law in making the transfers. He said if Gehrig wanted changes in state or city laws he should work on it.
Gehrig said he would.
Commissioner John Strand said the special assessment task force that studied the issues for more than a year was suggesting a 3/4% rate.
Meanwhile, the City Commission granted a delay in a special assessment for Nathan Everson who owns five commercial lots along the newly reconstructed 19th Avenue North in the city's industrial park area in far northwest Fargo.
Mahoney thought Everson should be given a chance to discuss it with city staff first.
Everson said his special assessment would be about $600,000 on the lots and that's more than they were worth. He said it was much higher than the per foot charge that Mid America Steel, the main business on the street, will be paying in special assessments.
Commissioner Tony Grindberg said part of the problem was because 19th Avenue is an arterial road, making it a more expensive project. He added that residents in providing input to his task force had the most complaints about those projects and how they are assessed.
Grindberg said the task force's recommendations will be discussed further yet this year at a City Commission meeting for possible changes that could lower bills for residents.