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Forum editorial: A smart option for flood work

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker's proposal to renew a half-cent city sales tax for flood control work is a good idea for several reasons. First, it would not be a new tax. That is, extending a dedicated sales tax that has been in place for several yea...

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker's proposal to renew a half-cent city sales tax for flood control work is a good idea for several reasons.

First, it would not be a new tax. That is, extending a dedicated sales tax that has been in place for several years will not increase the sales tax load in Fargo. Tax revenues would be repurposed to fund ongoing flood control projects.

Second, Fargo residents have consistently been willing to tax themselves when they know where the money will go. That was true of the Fargodome sales tax, various city infrastructure sales taxes and, more recently, two special sales taxes dedicated to flood work. In other words, the city has demonstrated its willingness to do its part - sometimes more than its part - while seeking state and federal dollars for the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion or for other projects vital to raising the city's flood protection levels.

Well, critics might ask, why the additional flood projects if the city is focused on the diversion? While the answer is obvious, not every observer of the city's flood protection strategies can see straight.

To its credit, the city of Fargo cranked up its flood control plan right after the 1997 flood, which inundated Grand Forks and scared the tar out of Fargo and Moorhead. Since then, both cities (Fargo's effort is a lot bigger because Fargo is bigger and its elevations are lower than most of Moorhead's) have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the cities. In Fargo, some $56 million was spent from January 2010 through July 2011. (See story, Page 1, Aug. 28 Forum.)

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It's also clear that if the diversion were approved today and contractors started working tomorrow, it would be at least eight years before the structure became operational. As we have seen in the past three years - and likely will see again in the spring of 2012 - floods don't wait for flood control projects to be completed.

Walaker and his team at City Hall have calculated that the city's current revenue sources can't accelerate flood control work and at the same time pay for the expenses attached to the diversion project. Extending a sales tax that is about to expire will conservatively raise $10 million annually for flood control projects. And because the cost of such work is a moving target, the additional revenue will give city planners the flexibility they require to get the best bang for the flood control buck.

It's a good plan. It's the kind of thinking that has made Fargo safer from floods than it was just a decade ago. The work must continue. Extension of the tax will help it happen.

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

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