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Fargo commissioners reinstate tax levy for airport, reversing September action

Airport officials say funds from property tax levy help secure federal, state dollars for construction projects

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The check-in desks for airlines are deserted at Hector International Airport on Thursday, March 26, 2020. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — During its meeting Monday night, Oct. 4, the Fargo City Commission by a vote of 3-2 reversed an action it took in September, when it voted by the same margin to eliminate a long-standing 2-mill levy for airport construction projects.

Those who voted to restore the 2-mill airport levy to the city budget included commissioners John Strand, Tony Gehrig, and Mayor Tim Mahoney.

Voting against the move to restore the mill levy were commissioners Dave Piepkorn and Arlette Preston.

Strand voted with Piepkorn and Preston in September to remove the airport mill levy from the city budget , but on Monday he said he reconsidered his decision.

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Monday's vote came after the commission heard from Erik Lind, chairman of the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority, and Shawn Dobberstein, the Airport Authority's executive director.

Lind said the Airport Authority's mill levy, which amounts to about $1.2 million a year, is used by the authority to pay the local share of construction projects, which are largely paid for by federal dollars.

airport officials Shawn Dobberstein and Erik Lind
Fargo Municipal Airport Authority Chairman Erik Lind, left, and Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the airport authority, speak to members of the Fargo City Commission on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. David Olson/The Forum.

Calling the airport levy "a very, very good deal for Fargo taxpayers," Lind said the Airport Authority is planning to move ahead on a number of large and expensive projects in the near future, including a planned expansion of the terminal at Hector International Airport that would create more gates, as well as a project that would expand parking.

Before voting against reinstating the airport levy Monday night, Piepkorn said financial oversight of the Airport Authority is inadequate.

"There's more red flags on this than the Chinese embassy," he said.

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Gehrig, who led the move to reinstate the airport levy Monday, said during a September City Commission meeting that cutting the mill-levy support for airport projects could mean the loss of millions of dollars in federal funds.

Lind and Dobberstein said Monday that eliminating the airport levy wouldn't necessarily mean current plans wouldn't be completed, but they stressed such a step would make paying for future projects more difficult.

"If we don't have the local funding, it might take longer, it might cost more. It would just take longer to fund those (projects)," Dobberstein said.

In voting to reinstate the airport levy, Strand said it was his hope the action would be a step toward easing recent tensions between the city and the Airport Authority and lead to better communication in the future when it comes to airport projects and how they are funded.

Later during Monday's meeting, City Attorney Erik Johnson echoed Strand's sentiments when he provided the commission with an update on talks between the city and the airport that have the aim of amending a revamped memorandum of understanding between the city and airport authority that was approved in January 2020.

"The intention of the negotiations ... is the hope that the tensions and the relationship will improve, that it will put the responsibility on the airport authority to communicate with the City Commission enough so that the City Commission grants their requests for mill levy and so forth," Johnson said.

Hector International Airport
Air travel is coming back to some degree, according to Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of Hector International Airport in Fargo, N.D. ‘We’re better now than we were at the start of COVID,’ he said.

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