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Fargo Explores Street Funding

Main Avenue in Fargo, N.D. is one of the streets in line for a reconstruction project to replace 100-year-old infrastructure. The multiyear project could be partially paid for if the half-cent sales tax set to expire in 2012 is extended.

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Is it possible for municipalities to undertake significant road construction projects and pay for them without raising taxes? Uh, probably not!

Downtown streets from Main Avenue to Fifth Avenue North and from University Drive to the Red River in Fargo, N.D. need to be replaced in the next few years. Fargo (pop. 105,549) is the state's largest city. The metro area population is 208,777.

Tearing up and rebuilding the more-than-100-year-old streets, utilities and sewer mains is likely to cost about $30 million and take four to five years, estimates city engineer Mark Bittner.

One of the city's half-cent sales taxes, which is used by the Fargo Street Department for infrastructure projects such as this, is set to expire in 2012, and Bittner wants it renewed.

''We've got to extend that, not only for infrastructure, but for interim flood projects,'' he said. (Fargo is on the western bank of the Red River of the North). ''We're buying a lot of houses and proposing a lot of interim projects. I'm trying to convince the commissioners that it's the right thing to do.''

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said there would need to be some significant justification for the commission to put the tax on the ballot for a voter-approved extension.

Engineers are working on a schedule of capital improvement projects and determining what funds would be available, Bittner said.

The infrastructure sales tax provides about $8 million a year for street projects, and the Engineering Department receives another $2.5 million in street rehabilitation funds from the city's general fund, Bittner said. The sales tax is needed for large projects, but the money is also being shared with flood recovery and preparation efforts, he said.

In recent years, the sales tax dollars have been spent on new roads in southwest Fargo as that area expanded, Bittner said.

Fargo would likely have to schedule a special election in order to avoid a lapse in revenue from the infrastructure tax, which expires June 30, 2012, said City Attorney Erik Johnson. The next citywide election is in early June 2012, resulting in a revenue gap because of an approximately two-month lag in sales tax collections.

Fargo trivia: Fargo was originally ''Centralia.'' The ''Fargo'' is for William Fargo (1818-1881), Wells Fargo Express Co. founder and director of the Northern Pacific Railway.

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November 19, 2019, 11:19 pm PDT

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