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Annexation plans anger landowners

Until now, the debate over Fargo's latest annexation proposal has flown between city officials and a few large landowners south of West Fargo. But there's a larger group that's been mostly silent -- if not stunned -- and they want to ...

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Until now, the debate over Fargo's latest annexation proposal has flown between city officials and a few large landowners south of West Fargo.

But there's a larger group that's been mostly silent -- if not stunned -- and they want to be heard.

In McMahon Estates, a subdivision of upper middle class homes on County Road 17, there's resentment, anger and growing suspicion among residents.

They question whether Fargo's expansion plans are about long-term growth -- or a "sneaky" land grab to capture taxes on big homes.

"We're unequivocally, totally against it. It's not going to happen," said Paul Holland, 6616 48th Ave. S. "I see no advantages to it whatsoever. If I wanted to live in Fargo, I would have moved there."

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Holland says it's "incomprehensible" that an annexation could take place without a majority vote of area residents.

"I don't see any good of it," he said. "I just see it as Fargo seeing a nice tax" windfall from the area's big homes.

Jane Holland said they also chose their home for their ties to West Fargo.

"I teach in the West Fargo School District," she said. "We wanted to be closer to West Fargo. Not closer to Fargo."

There would be a bigger tax bite for residents of the subdivision, said Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir.

A home valued at $198,000 in that area now pays $3,006 in county, township and school district taxes. If the land is annexed by Fargo, taxes would rise to $3,676 for higher city rates and park board assessments.

Montplaisir said the taxes could go higher if Fargo revalues properties.

Neither tax figure includes more than $700 in assessments on such a house to pay for the Sheyenne Diversion. But, that tax would be there regardless of whether the subdivision is in a township or a city.

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Homes in McMahon Estates have Fargo addresses, but lie a few miles directly south of West Fargo on what locals call the "old Horace Road."

Residents knew intellectually that someday Fargo or West Fargo would envelope them. But Fargo's expansion news has bit into some residents' nerves like a saw into a two-by-four.

"It's not well received. We moved out here to get away from Fargo," said Rod Schaffer, 6713 50th Ave. S. "When they set up the subdivision, they said it would be 20 years. It was six.

"Basically, we were pretty confident that Fargo was going to leave us alone."

Like most McMahon area residents interviewed, Schaffer said he would rather the area remain independent, but if he had his druthers, he'd choose West Fargo, hands down.

"The city of West Fargo is more apt to listen to citizens when they come in to voice a concern," Schaffer said.

But once Fargo officials start something, they have their minds made up and disregard dissent, he said. "So it's a lost cause."

There is not only the specter of Fargo's higher property taxes -- McMahon residents pay county and township taxes -- but all of the area's residents have paid to get rural water and install septic systems. Those investments could be lost if the area annexed.

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If McMahon Estates becomes part of the city of Fargo, residents worry special assessments will hit like a load of bricks as the city forces sewer and water over several miles of farm fields to the subdivision. Plus, there is the disruption of tearing up and rebuilding new roads for the infrastructure work.

Al Dudgeon moved from Southpointe in Fargo to McMahon Estates three years ago.

"We don't want to be in the city. That's why we moved out here. Otherwise we get their taxes and everything else," said Dudgeon, 614 48th Ave. S.

"They're not going to give us our money back for our septic system. They're not going to give us our five grand back," he said.

A few residents said they didn't have enough information yet to decide if being annexed would be good or not. At least one didn't have much of a problem with the idea.

"Actually, it doesn't bother me at all," said Tanya Schmidt, 6720 48th Ave. S. "The only thing is, what do you do with all the things (septic system and rural water) we had to put in here?"

Schmidt, like several other McMahon residents, also worries about whether her children will be forced to go to Fargo schools.

For Jason and Kristi Larson, paying city taxes is their No. 1 worry, but close behind is where they want their daughter to go to school.

"We want to be part of the West Fargo School District," Jason Larson said. "Both my wife and I went to West Fargo schools."

At least on that point, residents needn't worry, said West Fargo schools Superintendent Chuck Cheney. Legal agreements in place mean children along the County Road 17 corridor will go to West Fargo schools, he said.

Still, perceptions and politics weigh heavily on the issue and on McMahon Estates residents' minds.

"They're (Fargo) kind of going in the wrong direction," said Bill Lopez, 6709 48th Ave. S. He expected the subdivision would eventually be part of much nearer West Fargo.

"There's a lot of sneaky play going on," he said of the unexpected annexation announcement.

His wife, Tammy, agrees.

"I just kind of feel like they're kind of playing bully. Technically, this is more West Fargo than Fargo," she said.

More cooperation, and less confrontation, is needed to ease residents' worries and get effective growth for both cities, Bill Lopez said.

"I think the two communities need to get together and stop throwing punches," he said. "More working together. Maybe the Sheyenne (River) is a good dividing point. They just need to come to a good decision based on good faith."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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