Forum editorial: Refugees cost city millions?

Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn seemed to be channeling the late celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan last week. The commissioner said refugee resettlement in Fargo was costing the city "millions and millions" of dollars. Sagan was famous for in...

Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn seemed to be channeling the late celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan last week. The commissioner said refugee resettlement in Fargo was costing the city "millions and millions" of dollars. Sagan was famous for intoning that there were "billions and billions" of planets out there in the cosmos.

The difference is that Sagan knew what he was talking about.

Piepkorn said he based his cost estimate on his own research, the details and methodology of which he has not revealed. He said he was talking only about refugee costs to the city, because he's a city commissioner, and not costs incurred by Cass County or the Fargo School District. When pressed during an interview by WDAY AM radio talk show host Mike McFeely, the commissioner doubled down and insisted the cost to the city was "millions and millions," despite an earlier claim that he was including county and schools. And although he's relying on his own research-such as it is-he's calling for the commission to order a study of the costs to the city of refugee resettlement.

Which raises questions:

What "costs" keep Piepkorn up at night?

Law enforcement has said frequently the crime rate among refugees is no greater than in the general population. Where's the additional cost?

Do refugees use more water? Are they burdening the water treatment plant? Oh, wait, water use is metered and users pay for water. Even refugees.

Is garbage pickup unusually burdensome in refugee neighborhoods? No evidence of that.

Are they using the city bus system more than others? Probably. It often takes time to learn to drive and get a driver's license. But wait, there's a fee to ride the bus. Even refugees pay. And hasn't it been a city goal to increase ridership on the city's mass transit? Does Piepkorn have a problem with refugees on a bus? Surely they are not costing the city a dime.

Are refugee families that start businesses-restaurants, ethnic markets, clothiers-costing the city money? Or are they expanding retail diversity and paying property taxes?

Something else is at work in this subtle anti-newcomer pandering. Piepkorn inadvertently exposed the dark side when he referred in that radio interview to "these people." These people. You know, the ones who speak differently, who dress differently, who eat strange foods, who don't look like "us." Anyone who denies that aspect of the debate is happily mired in the "us and them" camp. It's an unhealthy place to be.

 

Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.