West Fargo School Board grapples with potential Horace assessment change
Horace is considering a change to its special assessment policy
WEST FARGO — The city of Horace is considering a change to the formula it uses when calculating special assessments for the West Fargo School District that could increase the amount the school district would have to pay exponentially.
Horace leaders have been working with a consultant to revise the city's special assessment formula. At the Monday, May 23, West Fargo School Board meeting, Business Manager Levi Bachmeier said Horace's assessment calculations could change from one based on square footage to one that uses potential road loads.
The current policy bases special assessments on the amount of square footage the school district owns in the city of Horace. The revised policy would base the assessment amount on a load factor of 45 multiplied by acreage owned.
The proposal is not yet finalized and will be brought before the Horace City Council at its June 6 meeting.
On Monday, the school board unanimously approved allowing Bachmeier, Superintendent Beth Slette and two board members to meet with Horace leaders to comment on the proposal, which Bachmeier said he hopes will stop short of an official protest by the school district.
"I remain cautiously optimistic we could have an open dialogue," he said. "We want to drill in and get some justification for the numbers up there. Right now, there is no 'why,' and that is ultimately what we are looking for."
Bachmeier explained that using a load factor of 45 would be the equivalent of 4,000 cars per acre using the nearby roads. Currently, fewer than 1,000 students attend Horace High School and Heritage Middle School. Every student would have to drive to the school four times per day to match the formula.
If the Horace used a load factor of 10 per acre, the formula may be a more acceptable compromise for the school district.
"We want to pay our fair share, but our board must be able to explain that and justify that to our taxpayers," Bachmeier said.
School officials said high assessments placed on the school district impact all district taxpayers, which include residents of Horace, Harwood, West Fargo and Fargo.
"This impacts every district taxpayer," Slette said.
The city may assess an area of residents who receive the most benefit for a certain project, or developers sometimes absorb special assessment costs for new infrastructure.
"Right now, we look like the cash cow because we are the largest development in Horace," Board Member Patti Stedman said.
Last year, the school district disputed initial special assessment costs from Horace for infrastructure installed near the new high school and middle school campus and a new housing development.
Bachmeier said the city of West Fargo notified staff that it, too, may consider a change in its formula as it's studying the calculations used for the special assessments the school district is charged. However, the change West Fargo could implement would not be as drastic as the Horace proposal.
"Right now, they treat us like a single-family homeowner, and I think they are realizing that's not quite the case," Bachmeier said. "I appreciate they have been very collaborative and very communicate about that dialogue."
Horace officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday, May 24.