This letter is in response to the City of Fargo's practice of charging an additional 1 percent interest to homeowners on special assessment balances. The explanation given was that the additional interest was meant to serve as a "safety net" in the event a taxpayer did not submit payment.
Annually, amounts collected but not required have been transferred to the general fund to use at the discretion of the city. The taxpayers of Fargo were never informed of this practice. Projects routinely take place in Fargo without a vote of the citizens. However, I was unaware of the "theft" of the hidden 1 percent special assessment "interest" surcharge that is essentially a dubious "slush" fund to cover these projects.
• I recommend a financial audit by an independent firm, preferably from outside Fargo. The current practice does not follow generally accepted accounting practices. I would like to know: When the practice began. Origination of the authorization of the practice (employee and/or commission).
• If the commission did not authorize the practice, why not?
• Competency of and degree to which current employees can be held accountable, since they have not objected.
• Criminal culpability of the authorizing and current commission and city staff, since policies should be reviewed annually.
Someone was originally responsible for this practice; however, the current people can be held responsible for not objecting and pointing out the proper way to account for uncollected balances.
The audit should occur prior to, not after, the election of a new commission to determine if any candidates running for election were on the commission that authorized this practice. We do not want them on the new commission.
Since property taxes and assessments are generally included in a homeowner's mortgage payments, I would like to know how many unpaid balances have ever been recorded. Proper accounting practice would include filing a lien against the property for any amount that is due for unpaid property improvements. The property could not be sold without satisfaction of the lien. Mortgage holders also review unpaid balances. Finally, I would like amounts I have paid for this unauthorized "interest" to be applied to my current unpaid special assessment balance. I would like special assessment "interest" collected on a prior home applied to my current unpaid special assessment balance. I would like to know if the city of Fargo owes interest to homeowners on the "interest" it illegally collected. I repeat, this practice does not meet generally accepted accounting practices. The city must be held to these standards.
Hamre lives in Fargo.