Fargo, North Dakota, Voters OK Tax for Flood Protection

July 2, 2009

Fargo, N.D., voters have overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax increase for flood protection.

The unofficial totals from the June 30 special election showed 11,520 in favor of it and 1,181 against it, more than 90 percent approval. It will take effect next year.

“I’m ecstatic,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

Officials say the half-cent tax increase would generate $200 million over 20 years. That would cover the city’s share of an estimated $1 billion flood projection system.

The exact projects it would finance have not yet been decided. Officials have been talking about dikes to protect the city’s south side, more protection for downtown and the need to acquire flood-prone land along the Red River.

The river stayed above flood stage in Fargo for a record 61 days in March and April and crested twice – the first time at a record 40.82 feet and the second at 34 feet. The damage, which is still being tallied, is expected to top $1 million.

Supporters of the tax increase had hoped fresh memories of the flooding could help persuade voters. They also said a sales tax increase would be better than special property tax assessments.

Paul Winje, whose family was forced from their home by flooding, said he sees the tax as a step toward permanent flood protection.

“For me, it’s a small price to pay to get closer to that,” he told The Forum.

Walaker said he worried the turnout would be too light and that discussion earlier this week of a diversion proposal would take attention away from the need to vote.

“If this thing would have gone down, it would have weighed heavily on whether I run for a second term,” the mayor told Fargo’s KFGO radio. Asked if that meant he was running, he said, “I’ll make my decision in the fall.”

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