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Mahoney sends letter to 35 large Fargo businesses urging ‘yes’ on flood assessment

FARGO - The mayor's office sent a letter earlier this month to 35 of the city's largest businesses urging them to vote "yes" on a special assessment for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion.

Mahoney
Acting mayor Tim Mahoney. Forum file photo

FARGO – The mayor’s office sent a letter earlier this month to 35 of the city’s largest businesses urging them to vote “yes” on a special assessment for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion.

The letter said if the diversion is not built, the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to increase the number of properties at risk of flooding, requiring them to pay more for flood insurance. It also said the vote is a matter of public record and “the media will be interested in how organizations voted.”

Tim Mahoney, the acting mayor, mentioned businesses such as Sanford Health, his former employer Essentia Health and Wells Fargo as recipients of the letter. He told The Forum his concern is decision-makers at major businesses are often based out of town and may not understand the diversion and the assessment process.

He also claimed that some businesses were surprised to learn the vote is not secret and he wanted all to know.

Mahoney's letter to Fargo businesses about special assessment

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It’s yet another reminder that the special-assessment vote is a unique process in state law: It’s a vote but is not really governed by election laws. Property owners have until April 30 to return ballots mailed to them. The special assessment would raise as much as $725 million to pay for the local share of the $1.8 billion diversion.

Normally, using government resources to influence an election is a no-no but, according to Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson, the special-assessment vote is not an election despite the use of terminology such as “ballot” and “vote.” The state corrupt practice law only bans governments from influencing the election of  candidates and ballot measures.

With most specials, the property taxes imposed by local governments to pay for streets and sewers, the assumption is that they will be levied unless enough property owners protest. But when specials are imposed by water resource districts – the Cass County Joint Water Resource District is undertaking the diversion assessment – the presumption is they will not be levied unless enough property owners vote “yes.”

Even the voting mechanism defined by state law violates the one-person-one vote standard, giving more votes to those with bigger assessments. Those 35 Fargo businesses Mahoney lobbied would likely have more votes than most other property owners and certainly more than the average homeowner.

Given the “yes” votes of Cass County and Fargo, which have the largest assessments and therefore the most votes, the diversion assessment has all but passed. Together, they have nearly 60 percent of the votes.

 

 

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