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Horace officials object to lower special assessment rate for West Fargo Public Schools

Mayor Kory Peterson said the implication by the school district was that it could lose another elementary school if the formula is raised too high as Horace adopts a new overall special assessment policy for the growing community.

Horace water tower
Forum file photo
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HORACE — After three members of the Horace City Council strongly objected this week to a proposed new formula for special assessments for the West Fargo school district in their booming community, an initial negotiated agreement is on hold.

Horace Mayor Kory Peterson said after a City Council meeting on Monday, June 6, that he and town officials would visit with City Council members Sarah Veit, Chelsey Johnson and Naomi Burkland to see if they wanted to try to set up another negotiating meeting with the school district, or go ahead and set a higher special assessment figure.

The mayor also warned the City Council that West Fargo Public Schools officials "implied" they may not build another school in the city if the special assessment policy was not changed.

Horace has been working to finalize an overall special assessment policy as their growing pains continue and residents face numerous road and infrastructure projects.

Developing the policy, with the help of a consultant, has been ongoing for more than a year for the town that is inching closer and closer to the city limits of Fargo and West Fargo.

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Peterson said they wanted to find a special assessment formula that is fair, transparent and lays out specific details.

The policy should mean residents "don't have any surprises" when they are assessed for road and other infrastructure projects that are steadily moving ahead across their community, the mayor said.

While the council members were supportive of most of the 22-page policy as it affects homes, churches, commercial properties and industries, Veit said she didn't like the formula for the schools, whose roads nearby would see heavy traffic including buses.

After the recent negotiating meeting involving Peterson, council member Jeff Trudeau, City Administrator Brent Holper and West Fargo School District officials, Veit said it seemed as if the district was "dictating to us" what they wanted the policy to be, rather than compromising.

She said Horace has already "been a good neighbor" to the district involving land, water usage breaks and other concessions for the three schools the district has built or remodeled in the city.

Veit said the proposed new formula for determining assessments with the school was negotiated down to a point where "it's really going to hit our people hard. They could give a little.

"It seems like we are the only ones compromising," she added.

Council members Johnson and Burklund agreed.

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"It seems whatever we give them is never enough," Johnson said.

Burklund called it "appalling" that school district officials said Horace wasn't working with them. She added Horace has only about 4,200 residents while West Fargo could share the special assessment expenses with its more than 40,000 residents.

The special assessment question focuses on the road usage "load factor" or a formula aimed at determining how often a street would be used, with lower charges for single-family homes and higher figures for commercial, city-owned land and industrial properties per acre if located in the special assessment district.

Previously, the specials were based on square footage instead of acreage.

The negotiations with West Fargo ended with lowering the load factor from 45 to 10.

A load factor of 45 would be the equivalent of 4,000 cars per acre using the the nearby roads, which West Fargo school district business manager Levi Bachmeier said was way too high of a usage figure.

He suggested the 10 factor.

Veit said with all of the school buses using the roads daily, it should certainly be more than 10 and suggested 25.

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Peterson asked the council members if they were willing to possibly lose another elementary school if the special assessment calculation is raised too high.

"We have what we need," Veit replied about the current elementary, middle and high schools.

She said they would want another elementary school, but "not if it's going to cost everyone else more."

The school district owns about 10 acres in the midst of proposed housing developments near 66th Street or north of the current middle school and high school.

Horace has already designed a concrete roadway on 66th Street with the idea that it would one day be used by the school.

A decision about the school assessment formula and the final adoption of the overall special assessment policy could be made at the next Horace City Council meeting on June 20.

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