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Park Board delays action on zoo bailout

A recent opinion from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem spooked the Fargo Park Board enough Tuesday to delay bailing out the Red River Zoo.

A recent opinion from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem spooked the Fargo Park Board enough Tuesday to delay bailing out the Red River Zoo.

The Park Board considered paying $160,000 in special tax assessments owed by the Red River Zoo.

The proposal is part of Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness's plan to subsidize the privately run zoo.

Fargo city commissioners agreed in August to divert as much as $800,000 in property taxes to the zoo to cover special assessment costs during the next 20 years.

The city will divert property taxes to the zoo from a parcel of land west of 43rd Street Southwest to cover future special taxes.


City officials asked the park district to pitch in by paying the special assessments currently owed by the zoo.

The zoo, resting on 33 acres owned by the Park District, was overwhelmed by special assessments because of power line relocations and street and sewer improvements.

Under its lease agreement with the Park District, the zoo is required to pay for the special assessments on the parcel and pay land rent of $100 a year.

But the five-member Park Board choose Tuesday not to pay the zoo's special assessments without Stenehjem's opinion that the bailout is legal.

Park Board member Jim Kapitan said a recent opinion by Stenehjem raises concerns about the plan.

Last month, Stenehjem said Burleigh County commissioners acted illegally when they provided $5,000 to help stage a Fourth of July fireworks display at the state Capitol.

The Legislature may authorize counties and cities to undertake "any industry, enterprise or business," that is not banned by the North Dakota Constitution. But in general, the constitution says state and local governments cannot give away taxpayers' money, "except for reasonable support of the poor," Stenehjem's opinion says.

"Before the Burleigh County situation we thought that it was above board, but now I'm not so sure," Kapitan said.


The Park board agreed not to vote on Furness's bailout proposal until Stenehjem can offer an opinion.

In other business Tuesday, the Park Board:

E Agreed to make an offer to buy nine acres from the Cardinal Muench Seminary. The land, adjacent to the Edgewood Golf Course, would enable the Park District to build more practice greens and expand its youth golf programs, Parks Director Roger Gress said.

E Agreed to allow the Fargo-West Fargo Booster Club to sell advertising space at the Fargo Coliseum on 17th Avenue N. and the Sports Arena on 17th Avenue S. The proceeds will help support girls youth hockey programs.

E Agreed to allow the FM Athletics teams use of the Ed Clapp Park football fields next year.

E Created the position of assistant fitness director at Park District's Courts Plus Fitness Center.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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