Special report: Specials unheard of outside border
Special assessments are a way of life for most Fargo residents. Beyond the North Dakota border, however, the concept is almost unheard of. In Fargo, all infrastructure improvements -- including sewer and water mains, roads, sidewalks and street l...
Special assessments are a way of life for most Fargo residents. Beyond the North Dakota border, however, the concept is almost unheard of.
In Fargo, all infrastructure improvements -- including sewer and water mains, roads, sidewalks and street lights -- are financed and installed by the city. The cost then is passed on to the property owner for the purpose of cost recovery.
The city charges the homeowner per front foot of land, based on how much the property benefits from the improvement.
All projects ultimately increase the value of the land.
- In Moorhead, the city assesses primarily for street, storm sanitary sewer, curb and gutter and paving projects. Street lights are installed by the city's Public Service company. A 20 percent fee is charged for new projects in Moorhead, similar to Fargo's 35 percent fee, which covers administrative, engineering and planning costs.
- West Fargo assesses all improvements, other than sanitary sewer lift stations, which are financed by the city. A 35 percent administrative fee is charged.
- The city of Grand Forks assesses all improvements, but not trees. A 27 percent administrative fee is charged for new projects.
- In Bismarck, sewer, water and streets are installed and paid for by the developer. The city picks up the difference on the cost of oversize mains. The city does assess sidewalks, but not trees.
In many other cities throughout the region, infrastructure projects are installed and paid for by the land developer, and the cost is included in the total price of the lot.
In Sioux Falls, S.D., special assessments are rare. Developers are responsible for installing and financing infrastructure.
The city picks up costs of oversize facilities through sales tax and enterprise funds. Street lights are supplied by the city and installed by the developer.
Tom Berkland, Sioux Falls engineering services manager, said he can't imagine it any other way.
"In my mind, projects like that are part of developing the land," Berkland said. "The city doesn't dabble in developing."
Despite its system, Sioux Falls is a growing city, with multiple developers taking part in the growth, he said.
Fargo officials have said growth could slow in the city if developers had to take on the cost of installing or bidding out infrastructure projects.
"If we (Sioux Falls) were to ever change things, I don't think our developers would like that much," Berkland said. "They'd feel like it would cost them more, and they'd be at the city's mercy."
Fargo's system may not be common outside of North Dakota, but the city's special assessments coordinator Dan Eberhardt said he's gotten calls from people in other states about Fargo's system.
"We hear that nobody else does them, but we get inquiries from other places," Eberhardt said. "It's a somewhat unique system, but it's a tool to help spur development. I think they help everyone in the long run."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531