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West Fargo takes steps to send half-cent sales tax for public safety to voters

However, some commissioners did question if this would be the best time to increase sales tax and the best method to fund the department.

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West Fargo is considering a half-cent sales tax for public safety.
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

WEST FARGO — City staff will begin the first steps in what may result in asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to help pay for its fire and police departments.

The West Fargo City Commission unanimously agreed Monday, Dec. 20, to green light city staff to begin "researching the sales tax" by visiting with the local business community and begin drafting ballot language.

However, some commissioners did question if this would be the best time to increase sales tax and the best method to fund the department.

City Administrator Tina Fisk said the sales tax measure would avoid increasing the city's mill levy to keep up with the two fast-growing West Fargo Fire and West Fargo Police departments.

"Public safety growth plans show the need for mill rate increases through the year 2026," Fisk said. "During this time, there will certainly be priorities in the budget from other city departments that will cause competition for dollars."

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West Fargo currently has a 2% city sales tax, which along with a 5% state sales tax and .5% county sales tax makes the rate 7.5%. One half-cent of the sales tax is dedicated to the city's infrastructure fund, while another half-cent is dedicated to economic development.

Fargo has a 2% city sales tax for a total sales tax of 7.5%.

According to Fisk, 13 other cities in North Dakota have a 2.5% sales tax, including Jamestown, Wahpeton and Valley City.

While Fisk presented numbers that show West Fargo spends less percentages of its budget on police and fire services, Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said he needed to see other figures that show how those numbers are being used.

West Fargo spends $33.08 less per resident than Fargo and $28.84 less than Moorhead. In terms of the percent of the budget that is dedicated to police protection, West Fargo dedicates 15.87% to police protection, while Fargo is dedicating 23.56% of its budget and Moorhead is dedicating 33.80% of its budget.

"Do we have a revenue problem or a spending problem?” Gjerdevig said. “I want to see the full analysis."

Mayor Bernie Dardis also questioned the timing of asking for a sales tax increase.

“I’m not prepared to go and ask the public for a tax increase with the economy and where we’ve been,” he said.

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Fisk said a half cent sales tax would add $3.7 million in revenue to the 2023 budget, and it would create a mill levy reduction of 7.41 mills. By 2026, it would add $4.3 million and 3.40 mills could be reduced from the levy.

The West Fargo Fire Department plans to begin construction in the spring on a new, estimated $17 million headquarters near 17th Street East.

The West Fargo Police Department has grown to about 63 sworn officers in addition to civilian staff.

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