Fargo politicians vow to keep out of tax debateAfter a split vote Monday to ask Fargo residents to approve a city sales tax in June’s election, some city officials pledged Tuesday not to interfere in the public discourse over the proposed half-cent tax. Mayor Dennis Walaker, a proponent, and Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who voted against putting the tax to a vote, both said they won’t actively campaign on the June 12 ballot measure.
By: By Kristen M. Daum, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — After a split vote Monday to ask Fargo residents to approve a city sales tax in June’s election, some city officials pledged Tuesday not to interfere in the public discourse over the proposed half-cent tax.
Mayor Dennis Walaker, a proponent, and Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who voted against putting the tax to a vote, both said they won’t actively campaign on the June 12 ballot measure.
Other than speaking for informational purposes about where sales tax dollars have gone to date, Walaker said there won’t be any official city-driven promotion of the extension. State laws prohibit the use of tax dollars for political campaigns, anyway.
“The people should be given the opportunity to vote on this,” Walaker said. “I’ve always had faith in the public. … They are intelligent enough to make the correct decision.”
Walaker added he doesn’t think Piepkorn and Williams opposing the initiative will hurt its chances of getting the 60 percent approval it needs to pass.
City planners and engineers made the case to commissioners last week that a sales tax extension would be the best way to help fund about $350 million in planned projects that could shore up Fargo’s streets, utilities and infrastructure and fortify its flood protection.
Piepkorn said he personally will oppose the tax, and he’s “very optimistic” that the majority of voters won’t back it either. The city’s current sales tax revenue — even without the extension — should be enough to pay for city projects, Piepkorn said, while acknowledging “it might take us a little bit longer to get it done.”
Both Piepkorn and fellow Commissioner Mike Williams — the two members of the five-person board who voted against placing the measure on the ballot — are also the only two commissioners up for re-election in June.
Williams could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Piepkorn said there’s “absolutely no” connection between his opposition for the sales tax measure and his own re-election hopes. Piepkorn said he’s been consistent in his conservative approach to fiscal matters.
The two candidates seeking to replace the incumbents are split on the sales tax extension.
Like Piepkorn and Williams, Anthony Gehrig and Melissa Sobolik expressed concerns about how fast the commission debated the tax extension. However, Gehrig opposes the tax entirely, while Sobolik said she agrees infrastructure needs warrant the extension.
“Rushing another tax forward without any plan of action and without knowing how much money we really need is simply irresponsible,” Gehrig said. “It boggles the mind that you would ask for money before knowing what you’d spend it on.”
Sobolik did question Fargo commissioners’ lack of foresight since they first debated the tax extension only weeks ago yet they’ve known for years the tax expires this summer.
“I would’ve liked to see them be more proactive, instead of just putting a plan together just before the deadline,” she said.
Kristen Daum is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.