As part of The Chamber’s public policy and advocacy efforts, to keep our members and community informed on the issues affect them and the metro, we’ve asked all 11 Fargo City Commission candidates to answer a questionnaire about their stances on various issues. With a total of six questions each, we have their full answers below.
As a candidate for Fargo City Commission, what do you view as the top three challenges that our community is facing?
- I think that there’s an issue of not having well thought out programs for New Americans that can help them with their English and writing. There are lots of New Americans and minorities living in Fargo that have only worked in low income jobs and factories and can barely read. This is definitely an issue because those people don’t get the opportunity that others who have gone through an extensive education get.
- Affordable housing is another issue I see. Fargo is expanding and there are larger families who really want to live in single family homes but can’t because of high priced homes.
- The issue with the diversion, how long will people argue about whether the diversion is good or not. At this rate, by the time that everyone agrees to it, we could possibly have a flood occur already.
- Permanent flood protection
- Workforce retention & attraction
- Sustainable growth, by encouraging a healthy mix of infill and planned expansion paired with the revitalization of current structures and strong neighborhoods
- Flood Control: Permanent flood control is the biggest challenge, and opportunity, that our community faces. We are not only building flood control for this generation, but for subsequent generations as well. Viewing this project as a multi-generational investment is crucial to getting community buy-in and support needed to start construction. Without permanent flood control, our community is at risk. As a City Commissioner, I would vote to support the start date, and be actively involved in the financial modeling to insure we have a sustainable way to pay for the project. On the whole, we need to increase the amount of community dialogue around this project, informing people about the advances and/or setbacks involved throughout the process. When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, people don’t like being surprised, so keeping the community up to speed is crucial to this project’s continued public support.
- Economic sustainability: Fargo is currently experiencing an economic rise and population increase, which means that we’re able to build and finance new, and often expanding, infrastructure. But, if this growth were to falter, we need to make sure that we can afford to maintain the infrastructure we’ve already built. This is key, as to not increase the cost burden of the city on to our tax-stressed homeowners. In 2014, the city of Fargo spent $130 million on capital improvements. This debt is paid largely by sales tax revenue and special assessments. With the possibility of an economic low tide, these funding sources will not be as reliable. We need to look at our city’s financials and prepare in a way that will lead to a sustainable future. In order to prepare for the future, we need to have an increased focus on expanding our current tax base and using existing infrastructure to its fullest.
- Workforce: We are entering a new era of work where people are choosing to move to the cities they want to live in even before they have secured a job. We are competing at a new level for national talent. Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro is up against cities like Austin, Boulder, Omaha, Minneapolis, and Des Moines as cities that people are choosing to live. Continuing to create a city that is attractive to families, professionals, and business owners alike means that we need to design neighborhoods that meet the needs and wants of different people, whether that be neighborhood schools; restaurants and nightlife; or outdoor recreation. All of these attributes aid in our employer’s ability to recruit people to our community.
- Flood protection – I want long term flood protection but I don’t support the current diversion plan. Previous versions of the diversions were more cost effective and less of a burden on Fargo taxpayers. The local share of the project needs a solid and feasible plan for funding and opposition from the south still poses the possibility of delays and additional legal conflicts. These issues need to be addressed before we burden the taxpayer further.
- Property taxes – The current outlook for state revenue will likely eliminate the buy down option for property taxes. Spikes in home assessment values as well as pressure from the school board for additional funding add to potential increases in property taxes. We need to work to ensure lower, more predictable property taxes for our city.
- Common sense budgeting and prioritized spending – Continued efforts need to be made to prioritize spending. We need to ensure essential city services are met first to provide for strong infrastructure. Additional projects will need to be met with further scrutiny to ensure responsible allocation of taxpayer resources.
Tony Grindberg: Three top challenges I believe are related to infrastructure, economic growth and public safety. First, completion of the F/M Diversion and addressing the long term water supply issue for the Red River Valley. Second, strategically work to ensure continued economic development occurs by partnering with education and maintaining a favorable tax climate. Third, while growth is a key component for our community, public safety and addressing the rise in drug offenses is a priority.
Matt Kuebler: Permanent flood protection, balancing the budget, keeping the city safe and prosperous.
- Community safety. This involves an absolute guarantee that the F-M Diversion will be built and that our neighborhoods will be safe from gangs, drugs and other violence.
- A balanced and common sense growth management strategy. This should be growth from within (infill and Historic Preservation); growth up; and growth out.
- Multi-faceted targeted workforce recruiting programs. We need to obtain the right workers to fit our community job needs.
Robin Nelson: Permanent flood protection, workforce shortage and public safety are the three most pressing issues for Fargo. Public safety is a growing concern due to the opiate epidemic and the heightened violence our officers are experiencing. Chief Todd states that he is down 12-18 officers at any given time, and attributes it to the fact that our compensation packages are not competitive in the regional market. I will fight for a competitive compensation analysis for both our law enforcement and fire departments prior to the next budgeting cycle. I will expand upon my opinions of flood protection and the workforce shortage below.
- Addressing the shortfalls in chemical and alcohol addiction intervention, treatment and rehabilitation services.
- Collaborating to secure permanent, comprehensive, metro-wide flood protection.
- Affordable housing and homeownership.
Scott Wagner: Securing permanent flood protection, the need to keep up with new infrastructure demands as our city continues to grow, and enhanced public safety.
Lance Yohe: The three top challenges facing the city are:
1) Flood protection, to the highest level possible—for economic, business, housing and workforce stability and growth.
2) Water supply, for the same reasons. Both of these issues are long term and expensive. Without flood protection in place there is an unacceptable risk of $10 to 12 billion in loss from a flood fight we lose and the resulting community devastation. Without a reliable source of water, we face the impacts of a long term drought on all aspects of the economy and community. We live in a semi-arid region that has in the past experienced a 250-year drought like the dirty 3’0s. This will happen again, and our current situation is to precarious to sustain the current economy and community in a long term drought. We need a more stable supply than a river that can run dry with a few backup reservoirs.
3) Public safety, continue and expand the current effort (outreach, medical provider dialogue and communication, use of Narcan by first responders (fire department) and treatment versus incarceration options–related to the spread of drug use and the resultant crime increases associated with drugs.
Do you support the F-M Diversion, as it is currently proposed, as the only solution for permanent flood protection? If so, would you be committed to support the project throughout your tenure as a Fargo city commissioner?
Andrew: Yes, I support it and would definitely commit to the project as commissioner. This is essential for Fargo and will be needed to avoid a disaster.
Brust: Absolutely. Permanent flood protection is critically important to the continued vitality of Fargo and the region as a whole, and the Diversion is the only solution. The protection provided by the Diversion will provide the stability businesses need in order to plan for the future and the peace-of-mind potential residents seek before investing in homes in the area. Implementing flood protection in Fargo as soon as possible is vital to protect homeowners, especially our senior citizens trying to stay in their homes, from sharply increased flood insurance rates. Fargo leaders need to show unified support for the Diversion. As a city commissioner, I will be an advocate for the Diversion.
Burgum: Yes. In order to begin construction on the F-M Diversion, I would vote to support the start date. The F-M Diversion is the best way to provide permanent flood control for our community.
Ertelt: No, there were other options for the diversion that served the tax payers better. If the current diversion plan continues to move ahead, I would work to make sure the project is limited to what is required and make sure funding for the project is properly planned and mapped out so that the rising costs are controlled as much as possible.
Grindberg: Yes, it is critical to complete the F/M Diversion project to ensure permanent flood protection is accomplished. I will continue to listen to the stakeholders, experts and industry professionals as we develop this vital long term solution for flood protection.
Kuebler: I do support the F-M Diversion but would like to see more federal funding for the project.
Linn: The Red River has exceeded flood stage in 49 of the past 110 years, including every year from 1993 through 2011, and again in 2013. The estimated cost of the floods between 1993 and 2011, and 2013 was $3.7 billion.
The FM Diversion is the only plan that the federal government approves to protect our region from 100/500 year floods. That being said, the cost of $2.1 billion is necessary to make certain the Diversion is built to the highest and long-lasting standards possible. The FM Diversion will protect the local economy, which generates $4.35 billion in annual non-farming wages and over $2.77 billion in annual taxable sales along with $14 billion in property value.
If we do not build the diversion, the cost to virtually every property owner in Fargo, as mandated by the federal government, will be $2,000-$4,000 per year in flood insurance because of the change in flood plain to 41’. This would be approximately $40-$60 million per year that would go to out-of-state insurance companies and would not be spent in our North Dakota.
I will do whatever I can to move the F-M Diversion forward on schedule. I will support the extension of a Fargo ½ cent sales tax for flood mitigation which expires in 2029. In addition, there is a ½ cent infrastructure sales tax that can be used for flood mitigation. I would support that extension as well.
Finally, I will ask the City of Fargo to apply for multiple federal grants that would allow us to convert at least 30 miles of one of the football field size banks on either side of the diversion into usable transportation/biking/hiking trails. I have already found available grants to help this become a reality!
Nelson: Yes, absolutely. It is the only option to avoid large flood insurance premiums for 19,400 homes in south Fargo. I will continue to fervently support the project until its completion and publicly promote the approval of an extended sales tax.
Strand: Without a doubt, the FM Diversion is the only and best solution for Fargo flood protection. The risks associated with property damage and or skyrocketing flood insurance further substantiate the need for the Diversion.
That said, however, there are obstacles to overcome: 1) guaranteeing federal and state funding for the project, itself, so as to not compromise the protection delivered; 2) mediating and negotiating agreements with opposition upstream and in Minnesota so we are all speaking with a unified voice; and 3) securing required permits from both North Dakota and Minnesota under the duress of short deadlines.
Wagner: I strongly support the F-M Diversion. As a past member of the F-M Diversion Authority board, I’m dedicated to getting this project done. That includes working with local, state and federal partners. I have been part of the local team of leaders who have been to Bismarck and Washington, D.C. lobbying on behalf of this project.
Yohe: Yes, absolutely. This is the best option for the greatest level of protection for the citizens and economy of Fargo. Fargo has to be able to fight a 500-year level flood, and win, and the proposed diversion is the only option that gets us to this level. Any level of protection less than this puts the community at risk for a $10 to 12 billion loss. Grand Forks in 1997, as well as Minot and Bismarck in 2011, all discovered the perils of 100-year flood protection using levees. hey all lost the battle and the damages were in the billions of dollars and parts of their communities devastated. In Fargo, other measures like in town protection are part of this overall strategy. Upstream retention is worthwhile doing as it increases the protection of the diversion, but only in conjunction with the full diversion as currently proposed. I will support the diversion as long as I am a city commissioner, or until it gets built.
The low unemployment rate and lack of available workforce is challenging businesses across the metro. What can the city do to help attract the workforce that is necessary for our businesses to grow?
Andrew: This has to do with not having enough programs to help people who have a second language. Lots of New Americans are in need of jobs and love to work but can’t because they don’t have the education. If we can make sure that each workforce has an intensive training that not only tells how to do the job, but English and writing along with it, then we are closer to educating people. We also need to make sure that women are getting paid the same amount of pay rate as men.
Brust: Millennials have become the largest percentage of the workforce, so we must build a community that is attractive to them. As a young professional who moved away for law school only to be drawn back home to Fargo, I will bring to the commission unique insight into what attracts young talented workers to our city. This demographic looks for affordable housing near work and amenities. They want low cost transit and multiple options for getting around a city. This demographic expects diverse cultural attractions and entertainment options. These digital natives value a thriving tech and startup community.
Burgum: People are aware of the high cost of air travel in and out of this community and it has become prohibitive for individuals and employers. To those from other U.S. cities, the few flight options creates a perception that Fargo is difficult to access. If Fargo is truly going to compete at the national level in business and talent we need a strong airport. To achieve this, the city needs to incent more airlines to operate at our municipal airport.
Fargo’s business culture is perfectly positioned for startups and emerging industries to call home. However, if Fargo doesn’t become easier to access, it won’t be considered a first-choice city for those who are destined to launch and grow companies. Simply put, if the city wants more people to move here, it needs to provide more flights.
When individuals are looking to move into new communities, a place’s vibrancy becomes a key metric in their decision-making. As a city, we need to be creating policy that allows for unique aspects of our culture to flourish in order to differentiate our city from competing metros.
Ertelt: Making sure we have a low predictable tax rate will encourage businesses growth and investment. We can also continue to work with business leaders to understand their concerns about the lack of workforce and discuss issues and plans to improve the situation. We should continue outreach efforts in the community to ensure concerns and feedback are addressed.
Grindberg: First, encourage partnership and collaboration with our educational institutions through promoting career awareness and support for public/private partnerships to prepare young people for career pathways. Second, support the Chamber of Commerce and GFMEDC initiatives to implement programs that address the strategies outlined in the 2015 FM Regional Workforce Report. Third, the City of Fargo needs to continue its growth strategies that improve our quality of life and well-balanced tax policies.
Kuebler: First, have a safe community that encourages young families to stay in town or come in from other parts of the country. Second, through the free-market system encourage new businesses and ideas to spread throughout the community with low sustainable taxes.
Linn: We need employees in dozens of different professions and positions. According to the 2015 Regional Workforce Study (RWS), there was a 24% increase in the number of jobs in the F-M region from 2004-2014. During that time, the U.S. economy grew by 5%. At that time, our area was projected to have more than 30,000 job opening in five years (by 2019).
The establishment of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation was a very important step in collaboration, communication and action to help our workforce needs. However, we can do more to support them.
When elected, I will propose that the City of Fargo does the following:
- Support the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation and offer additional fresh strategies to them. These strategies, which may involve City of Fargo Staff, include:
- Contacting the Department of Labor in states with the highest unemployment rates and ask them to work with us. The states with over 6% unemployment include Alaska, West Virginia, Illinois, District of Columbia, Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama and Louisiana.
- Based on the RWS, the needs for the following should be promoted: hospitality and tourism jobs (821 annual openings); business management and administration (764 annual openings); marketing (674 openings); and health services (509 openings). These positions should be publicized in other states (as mentioned above) and in the area.
- Offer incentives to current residents to recruit workers from other areas.
- Meet with the offices of ND tourism, economic development and job service to coordinate recruitment activities.
- Survey new employees from businesses that are members of the Chamber of Commerce (through a free survey site) and ask them where they came from, why they chose Fargo, and other questions. This information will help us better target potential job-seekers and develop a better communications and marketing message that reflects their insight.
- Develop a comprehensive multi-faceted marketing plan to recruit workers in the areas of highest need.
Nelson: Workforce development and retention is a complex challenge that will require a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach. Well-aligned educational systems from preschool through graduate school, proven economic development strategies and incentives, enhanced quality of life through vibrant arts and entertainment, affordable and diverse housing options, and public safety all play important roles.
- With the thousands of college students in our community, we should explore incentive programs that will help career-prepared graduates lower their student loan interest rates or even work off student loans, themselves.
- Our vast and capable, hard-working New American community would fill even more workforce gaps with additional, stepped-up English Language Learning classes, along with focused coaching in the job application and interview processes.
Wagner: The answer to this issue has two components, retention and recruitment. In the area of retention, some local high-tech companies are already looking at how to partner with higher education to compress the time it takes to obtain a degree. Paired with an internship, graduates could leave college with less debt and a good paying local job in hand, creating a great incentive to keep graduates here. Regarding recruitment, during my 12 years on the Greater Fargo-Moorhead EDC board workforce recruitment was a primary focus. Companies sold the job and the EDC partnered with companies to sell the community.
Yohe: Fargo needs a plan to address the key areas of workforce needs: degreed workers, technically trained workers and service industry workers. There is a lack of highly educated (degreed) workers that need to be attracted and retained. Some will be interested in downtown amenities are urban living style infrastructure. We need to do a better job of selling what we have to these groups, to overcome preconceived ideas like: it’s too cold, not enough to do, not enough opportunity, etc. Business, the community and city need to talk positively about the area and work with k-12 and higher education on strategies to keep, attract and maintain these workers. The use of financial incentives to continue to develop the downtown area should be considered. The city could be more creative and proactive on housing issues and business incentives throughout the city to provide more options. There is also a lack of a technically trained workforce and the service industry workforce is projected to increase. Some in these workforce groups will be interested in affordable housing, housing in the right locations, language training, and bus services and transportation options that fit work schedules. The city needs to review its policies on zoning in older neighborhoods to address needs and density issues, where people will choose to live. In new development areas, a review of the cost of special assessments is needed and use of incentives to make housing more affordable. Fargo also needs to consider the ratio of single and multi-dwelling housing units. To address all these demands Fargo should work closely with higher education, economic development, non-governmental groups, government and others as policies are set and incentives provided to provide a competitively attractive place to settle, work and live.
City leaders and The Chamber agree that Fargo is in need of additional convention center space. The question is: where should it go and how should it be paid for?
Andrew: There are a lot of places downtown that could be used as a convention center space. The location of downtown would be great because it’s a city attraction. We could remodel a building there that isn’t currently being used. We have a lot of money coming in from the oil revenue, and that money could be used toward this. As part of planning, I would look into where the cities money is going to and use any money that goes to unnecessary projects and use it toward this. The city needs to utilize its resources.
Brust: Fargo residents have voiced a strong desire for a new convention center, and it belongs downtown. Obviously there are logistical issues like access and hotels that we would need to address, but a convention center could be the catalyst for these improvements. A downtown location would provide the greatest economic boost to our local businesses. Visitors would enjoy uniquely Fargo experiences in the heart of our community. Of course, before moving forward the city must look carefully at the numbers to find a balance between the costs and the economic stimulation (and subsequent additional tax revenue) such a facility will bring to the area around it. In addition, the Fargodome will continue to play an important role in our community.
Burgum: In order to secure adequate funding, the convention center will need to go to a public vote for a half-cent sales tax. Like the Fargo Library and the Fargodome, community projects similar to the convention center need to be supported by the public to ensure success.
The purpose of a convention center is to attract visitors into the city, show Fargo to people from across the country, and have them spend money at local businesses. To accomplish these goals, the center needs to be located in an area that makes it easy for visitors to experience Fargo. Any place can have a great convention space, but to differentiate itself and attract events, the center must be uniquely Fargo, which points to our biggest tourist attraction: Downtown. With a convention center located near our vibrant downtown, guests have the opportunity to see our community and spend money at local businesses and restaurants. In this way, guests remember the unique aspects of visiting a new place, the character, charm, nightlife, restaurants, and local flare.
Ertelt: The Chamber would be a great organization to take the lead on organizing business interests, location and funding for a new convention center. If taxpayer money is proposed for such a project, I would require a vote of the community. Projects like these should be sourced from the private sector.
Grindberg: A site selection feasibility study should be advanced to research and provide rationale for the best location of such a project. After independent research of all factors, proceed only if recommendation would lead to a location that would ensure long term success. A public/private financing partnership model would be an option to consider.
Kuebler: My platform has always been to priorities spending and focus on needs over wants. At this time I believe we have other issues that need to be at the forefront than a convention center; the FM diversion, hiring of new police officers, infrastructure, public works. So at this time I do not think a convention center is a priority. If the city budget allows for one down the road we can look at the location and how we can pay for the center without having it going over our budget.
Linn: The 2014 Report completed by the Convention, Sports and Entertainment Facilities Consulting Firm from Chicago is a thorough and well-written document that gives us information comparing the FARGODOME site and the Downtown Site. This study was expansive and very thorough.
In this study, there were many pros and cons relating to both locations. It reviewed all types of events, including trade shows, conventions, banquets, conferences, meetings, training/workshops and other activities.
The report articulates that the FARGODOME site would attract larger events and grow existing events with joint space. There is the financial benefit of having staff and equipment efficiencies for a single site. In addition, it provides easy access from all parts of the area because of the access to major highways. In addition, there is an abundance of ready parking spaces.
Some of the pros for the downtown site include the possibility it could be tied to flood mitigation. In addition, there is the potential connect to existing and new hotel development. Also, the downtown area would experience an increase in traffic resulting in more use of downtown restaurants and retail space.
I suggest that a team of interested parties establish a short-term working group to fully analyze this report and give the City of Fargo a recommendation. This team should include at a minimum the following: FM Chamber of Commerce, the City of Fargo, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, meeting planners who represent potential bookings, representatives from the hospitality industry, and more.
Nonetheless, after my brief analysis of the report, if I had to make a suggestion, it would be to build the Convention Center in conjunction with the FARGODOME. The expansion has more positive financial benefits, transportation convenience, and the ability to attract larger events.
Financing the project should involve a variety of sources that will cover all hard costs and soft costs of the project. Prior to implementing any of these options, a legal review must be undertaken to make sure the financing is consistent with Fargo’s Home Rule Charter. Here are some options:
- Public private partnership (P3). The City of Fargo/FARGODOME could establish one or more relationships with private entities to help partially fund the FARGODOME Convention Center or Downtown facility.
- Naming and other sponsorship rights. The Fargo Dome Authority could establish sponsorship packages and offer them to interested parties.
- Researching the establishment of a small “bed/lodging” tax. Prior to doing this, we need to get input from the hotel industry and community members. A “bed” tax would help spread the tax burden to those visiting our community and using the Convention Center.
- Tax exempt bonds. Typically, cities structure long-term debt either by issuing either revenue bonds or general obligation bonds. I would not support general obligation bonds because it would increase citizen’s property taxes. I would support revenue bonds that are tied to the “bed” tax as stated above.
- Other revenue sources may include: FARGODOME cash reserves; food and beverage taxes; car rental taxes; and gas taxes.
Nelson: The 2014 Market and Feasibility Analysis indicates a preference to a convention center co-located with the FARGODOME due to the attendance draw of trade shows, consumer shows, meeting and conferences in addition to leveraging the Dome’s resources due to proximity. With approximately $32M in cash reserves, the FARGODOME has enough ready capital to bond the project. I have been told that the downtown location option has been all but ruled out since the owner of the Howard Johnson intends to rebuild onsite, thereby greatly limiting land availability.
Strand: My personal thoughts on location are preempted by practical, broader-view consideration of assuring optimum use and success associated with the convention center, which I also agree is needed. Location should be based on what would deliver the greatest result not only for those coming to Fargo, but also in terms of the spectrum of services and amenities offered them, such as food, housing and access.
Wagner: The F-M Diversion is the number one funding issue. If and when the city takes up the conversation regarding the need for additional convention space it should look to the Fargodome location. In regard to paying for the project, in addition to Dome reserves, any new additional dollars should require voter approval.
Yohe: Issues of hotel accommodations, access, downtown development and costs all play a part in finding the best location. Of the locations discussed downtown, Fargodome, West Acres Area or some other place—I like the Fargodome area for accessibility and would lean in this direction. The cost at this time will be a major challenge, as $60 million or so from the general fund budget would be difficult. Getting this much from sales tax revenue, when we need this source of funding for water issues, seems out of reach. I would support exploring at this time a multiple funding source approach. These would include fundraising (from grants to private donors), a sales tax vote for some portion, and maybe a general fund appropriation of some portion. Funding would be over a number of years, to lower annual funding demands, as this type of facility would be worth investing public dollars in for the revenue generated and for the community image it will create. This approach is more proactive than waiting until current sales tax needs expire.
To what extent do you think our city leaders should prioritize incorporating a regionalized approach to city and resource management versus an autonomous plan?
Andrew: Majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology, I do a lot of studies on cooperation and how people work well together. Having an autonomous plan is OK, but having cooperation within the resource management is better because everyone’s best ability is used and the outcome can be great.
Brust: We should collaborate with our neighbors whenever feasible. Our communities are truly intertwined, with many residents living in one city, working in another, and shopping in the third. The agreement between West Fargo and Fargo for supplying tap water is a great example of us all doing better when we share resources.
Burgum: A regionalized approach is critical. It would be financially irresponsible not to coordinate on a regional level. We can achieve a higher quality of service, and save taxpayer dollars, with an economy of scale. Everyone benefits from a regionalized approach. A great example is the current sale of water to West Fargo. We have the opportunity to share our facilities to sell them sewage capacity as well. Our Fire and Police departments have done this approach with region-wide sharing of training facilities and staff. This shows the vast opportunities that would be available by taking a critical look at our metro-wide resources.
Ertelt: When it makes sense to regionalize we should do it, providing that all parties are in agreement. Some of these opportunities, like the project to support water to West Fargo, can start paying for themselves almost immediately. These projects create revenue opportunities for the city by selling services to our neighbors which in turn will allow us reinforce our resource management services for our future growth and demands as well.
Grindberg: The City of Fargo should always look for opportunities to partner to reduce costs and improve quality or access. But we must be ever mindful that as the state’s largest city, we must have financial partnerships that are fair to our taxpayers. Some of our most important issues require collaboration across political subdivisions. Water supply, flood protection and safety issues (drug problems, gangs etc.) all are best served by an integrated approach.
Linn: To what extent do you think our city leaders should prioritize incorporating a regionalized approach to city and resource management versus an autonomous plan?
The City of Fargo is a self-sufficient municipality. However, in order to adequately address critical issues, including permanent flood mitigation through the FM diversion, crime/gang/drug prevention, transportation, job recruitment/retention, economic development, tourism, health, roads, etc., we need to continue to work regionally with West Fargo, Moorhead, Horace, Cass County, Clay County and the state of North Dakota.
In addition, we need to be proactive and look for other areas in which we can work regionally. Some of those areas may involve: recreation opportunities; multi-city events (competitive and non-competitive bike events); and potential cost savings through combined purchasing of products or services utilized by all the entities.
Nelson: Collaborative efforts should be pursued to the greatest extent possible. It makes complete sense to leverage monetary resources and intellectual capital whenever feasible. Landfill and water-supply agreements are great examples of successful partnerships and we should continue to seek ways to increase them.
Strand: The best model for such a regionalized approach is the Chamber itself, along with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. A broader, more efficient delivery system of essential services is for the greater public good and for the long term.
Wagner: Where the city can, it should look to regionalization. In fact, it has on a number of issues over the years. While I was on the Cass County Commission, we partner with other metro jurisdiction on many projects, including the City of Fargo. We partnered on flood protection, transportation infrastructure and public safety.
Yohe: Wherever possible, Fargo should learn from its own positive experiences on regional and cooperative approaches and expand the opportunities to do more. Positive experiences like the following should be considered in other areas: metro-cog transportation planning; Fargo sharing drinking water with West Fargo; the multi-jurisdictional “street gang team” between the area police departments; the effort now underway to buy a shared radio system for police and fire, using a Minnesota system; the FMWF Chamber; and the FM Economic Development Corporation. These are all ways to strengthen services, build good-will and trust and reduce costs. These are worthwhile doing. And they will be especially valuable in the future addressing the three highest needs listed above: flood control, water supply and public safety. Fargo should continue to take the opportunity to do joint regional efforts and should intentionally strategize how best to do this on flooding and water supply. This could be a first step toward a larger regional approach to city and resource management.
Do you think the City of Fargo should redevelop already purposed land or continue to grow by expanding their city limits?
Andrew: The City of Fargo is growing in itself, so yes we should expand city limits. High density areas could be problematic because of crowding and not careful planning. Expanding the city would also be able to provide more single family homes and we could reserve historical landmarks.
Brust: We need a healthy balance of both infill and responsible expansion. Obviously as we rapidly grow, we will see some expansion to the south. Rather than piecemeal growth, we should seize this opportunity to ensure we provide a variety of housing options, including affordable options, throughout the city. Cohesive planning for Fargo’s expansion to the south would encourage strong, mixed-use neighborhoods as we grow.
Infill is vital to ensure that our growth is sustainable and to keep our older neighborhoods vibrant. Developers often argue that infill is only financially viable if they erect high-density apartment buildings. Smart tax-incentives would encourage developers to embrace opportunities for infill that revitalize our older neighborhoods while respecting their character. These infill projects could provide that missing mid-level housing we so desperately need.
Burgum: We need to grow in a way that is economically sustainable for the future. Within city limits, we have under-used infrastructure that we continue to pay for, regardless of outward growth. When creating new neighborhoods, it is important that we create density that allows for long-term financial stability. A block or road costs the same to build and service whether there are five property owners or 10. If more people are sharing the cost of the city’s services, then taxes can be lower for everyone.
Whatever the lifestyle you want to lead in the city, it needs to be economically sustainable for all of us, the taxpayers. Simply put, we need a tax base that can finance our city’s growth without digging itself a hole that it could fall into down the road.
Ertelt: I think those solutions should be driven by the private sector. Investors and business leaders know what the market demands are and can work to fill those needs. The City of Fargo can grow and redevelop where those situations make sense.
Grindberg: I support balanced market/private sector growth that aligns with the City of Fargo zoning and planning. Infill development that is appropriate for established neighborhoods after an open transparent process is paramount. I also support growth by expanding city limits as determined by market demand. A successful long-term strategy requires support for both models.
Kuebler: As the city expands, the growth stretches out the cities services. I believe we need a controlled growth of the city limits and focus on the land that is readily available throughout town.
Linn: I believe that expanding the city limits may be needed. However, we need a common sense and balanced approach to growth. That means we should thoughtfully grow up, out and grow within the city. We are a diverse community composed of people who may want to downsize, to upsize, to right size and many who may want to move out of the multi-family dwelling. Currently, multi-family housing makes up 54% of the city’s housing. With all the different types of housing desires, I believe we need to make sure we work to help all those who want to live in Fargo and give them safe neighborhoods in housing that they want. We need to support revitalization of our city’s historic neighborhoods, as well as offer options for new development.
The City of Fargo should be a catalyst for managed and common sense growth. In addition, we should provide information that will help residents find programs to help them purchase property (Homestead Property Tax Credit, Disabled Veterans Property Tax Credit, etc.)
Nelson: Both. Fargo must be poised to meet the demands of the market and simultaneously encourage infill. The current city limits include a large amount of undeveloped land and can probably accommodate future development for many years to come without annexing more.
Strand: First priority is to redevelop already purposed land. Secondarily, while not before adequate flood protection is in place, Fargo should prioritize infill in in the city’s core. Thirdly, managed and smart development of available properties at the city’s outer edges can unfold, however not before updated planning and zoning, and provision of essential public services is deliverable.
Wagner: I believe in a multifaceted approach to growth. For example, one great thing about Fargo is its many options in housing, whether its downtown condos, rehabbing historic properties, or new subdivisions. The City of Fargo needs to be sensitive to consumer demands. This includes expanding the cities’ physical footprint in its natural growth areas.
Yohe: I think Fargo should allow people the opportunity to live where they want within the city limits. Fargo should however should have policies clearly in place that show the limits of what Fargo will provide in infrastructure costs as people move into less dense areas. There needs to be a point of economic viability related to infrastructure costs and revenue return to provide budget stability for the city. This policy will help guide and increase development of areas already with infrastructure in place. I do not think the city should make these type of decision by density quotas, even though density numbers can help guide the city policies on growth.
To learn more about the candidates and ask them questions in person, please join us for our City Commission Candidate Cracker Barrel on Thursday, June 9.