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Commission President Dardis testified in front of the North Dakota House of Representatives Finance and Taxation Committee today in support of House Bill 1066, also known as the Prairie Dog bill. Commission Dardis was joined by representatives from other North Dakota cities, counties, townships and airports to support this bill. HB 1066 provides funding to cities, counties, and townships for essential infrastructure projects.
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Testimony on HB 1066
Presented to the House Finance and Taxation Committee
Prepared by Bernie Dardis, Commission President, City of West Fargo
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019
Chairman Headland and members of the House Finance and Taxation Committee: I appear before you today in support of House Bill 1066. To put it simply, the infrastructure needs of our community far outpace the funds and tools available to us.
“A city on the grow” has been the proud slogan of West Fargo for more than 20 years. During that time, our population has increased 106 percent and our school district has grown to the third largest district in the state. From 2001 to 2010, our city added close to 5,000 acres to the community. While it is with great pride that we welcome new residents, businesses and visitors into our community, this exponential growth has created growing pains that affect our city’s ability to provide services, protection, affordable living and a high quality of life.
Throughout this exponential growth, the burden of creating, maintaining and improving infrastructure has remained on our taxpayers. Over the past five years, we have financed a total of $195.9 million in infrastructure projects with $168.1 million coming through special assessments. In 2019 alone, we expect to bond for at least $80 million in projects. The city’s capital improvement plan has identified $352.1 million worth of projects for the next 10 years.
In addition to the issues associated with growth, the core area of West Fargo is in significant need of reconstruction and improvement. This core area is 143 blocks with issues of deteriorating sanitary sewer pipes, rough roads and overtaxed storm and water sewer systems. In some areas of town, pipes have completely disintegrated – meaning water and sewage is flowing through voids in the system.
The City of West Fargo is currently engaged in a comprehensive study of this area and initial estimates have identified more than $50 million worth of projects that need completion over the next 20 years. This is in addition to the projects already included in the capital improvement plan. The projects needed are essential to the health, safety and quality of life for the residents in this area and must be tackled. What concerns us most about this situation is that the core area of town is West Fargo’s primary source of affordable housing for our residents. Placing large special assessment burdens in this area of town will be a tremendous obstacle for the future prosperity of our city, as it will result in a major blow to the affordable housing options. Some of these existing homeowners simply do not have the means to carry large increases to their tax bill in the form of special assessments that would be necessary to fund these projects.
The City of West Fargo has used a multifaceted approach when funding these improvement projects – using collected sales tax, special assessments to the benefiting property owners and low interest Bank of North Dakota loan. However, we need more or expanded tools for funding, such as direct aid from the state. The City of West Fargo has carried the burden of infrastructure improvement projects largely on the backs of its taxpayers during this growth. We need assistance to reduce the tremendous burden of debt that exceptional growth has caused.
For these reasons, the City of West Fargo supports HB 1066. I would answer any questions that you have at this time, or you can certainly contact me later by email at email@example.com.