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Measure to boost West Fargo sales tax meets criticism at town hall

The measure is designed to support only the city's police and fire services, and would increase the city portion of sales tax from 2% to 2.5%. If the measure passes, it could generate up to $2.4 million in 2023.

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West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness fields a question along with West Fargo Fire Department Chief Dan Fuller during a Public Safety Sales Tax meeting at Prairie Heights Church on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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WEST FARGO — Citing that city growth is outpacing public safety, West Fargo police and fire chiefs and Mayor Bernie Dardis on Thursday, Oct. 27, pushed for the benefits of two city measures that would boost sales tax during a town hall meeting

City Measure 1 and City Measure 2, if approved, would raise the sales tax rate to the highest in the metro area, and will be voted on Nov. 8 in the general election.

About 25 people came to the town hall meeting at Prairie Heights Church, 319 32nd Ave. E.

Some in the audience criticized the measures as inappropriate, with one person saying that the two chiefs were “sacrificial lambs.”

“We’re not advocating for or against this sales tax, that’s not our job, but we are here to answer questions so people can make their own decisions,” said Dan Fuller, West Fargo fire chief.

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West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness said what the department has right now is not adequate, stressing his biggest concern of future staffing.

After the idea first came about in December of 2021, the West Fargo City Commission voted in August to place the half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The measure is designed to support only the city's police and fire services, and would increase the city portion of sales tax from 2% to 2.5%. If the measure passes, it could generate up to $2.4 million in 2023 .

West Fargo's tax rate would increase from 7.5% to 8%. The rate of sales tax including state and county taxes in Fargo is 7.5%, and Moorhead's sales tax is 7.38%.

If passed, the money would be used to add equipment and additional staff to the police and fire departments, primarily traffic enforcement officers to the police and additional staff for the fire department.

Dardis, in describing the measure, used an analogy of his children and grandchildren coming to live in his house. The property value would not increase, but other expenses would, he said.

“The revenues for the needs that we have for infrastructure, and with all the growth that we’ve had, and everything we’ve put into that growth, has put us into the position we are in today,” Dardis said.

Otterness reported that the department has a total of four police officers working most days.

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“And our call level has gone from 20,000 a year to 32,000," Otterness said.

Calls for fire emergencies have exceeded 2,800 a year, said Fuller, noting that calls are predicted to increase to more than 3,900 in two years.

More than 20 to 25 times a month, the fire department gets more than one call at a time, which forces them to reach out to volunteer fire departments or the City of Fargo, Fuller said.

“That happened 239 times last year,” Fuller said, adding that the department typically has five firefighters on duty each day, and they need a total of 17.

Fuller said the department has told the city commission of its need for increased staffing, fire trucks and money.

"We’re at a point where we absolutely need to see this happen,” Fuller said.

Members of the audience understood that growth was outpacing public safety, but many of those who spoke were not in favor of the measures.

David Withee, a new resident of West Fargo, questioned if an increase in sales tax was the proper method for funding city departments.

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“My questions are from a mechanical standpoint. Is this the way to fund this? This seems like it’s not a reliable funding method,” Withee said.

Steve Marquart, another West Fargo resident, said the proposals had no sunset date.

“It’s almost a scare tactic that we aren’t going to be safe anymore if we don’t pass the sales tax,” Marquart said. "You guys are here, and nobody is telling us no don’t vote for it."

Otterness said he and Fuller were the best representation of the needs of the police department and staffing levels within the community.

“This is the purest form of city government that you can have. We want you to understand that this is your decision,” Dardis said.

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West Fargo resident Steve Marquart asks a question during the Public Safety Sales Tax meeting at Prairie Heights Church on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022
C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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