Sales tax expansion

Sales tax expansion proposals and property-tax increases for a museum and swimming pool will be among issues facing area voters when they go to the polls June 10.

Supporters of a sales tax measure in Watford City say construction of a new medical facility and an events center hinge on the June vote.

Passage of the measure would renew the Roughrider Fund sales tax that sunsets in September while increasing the tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. The sales tax has generated an increasing amount of revenue due to the growth in the area, but demands on the Roughrider Fund also have grown.

The Roughrider Fund had $150,000 a year to spend 10 years ago. Last year, it had $2.3 million. Raising the tax by a half percent could mean $4 million to $5 million a year. A household spending $500 a month on taxable purchases would see their tax contribution go from $5 a month to $7.50 a month.

The local economic development corporation, which is promoting the measure, holds that the sales tax shouldn’t be used to replace oil and gas or property taxes in funding basic government services such as water, sewer and roads but should go to community-oriented projects. In the past, sales tax revenue has gone to healthcare development, parks and recreation programs, a wellness center, a child care center, golf course expansion and affordable housing.

Watford City has costly projects planned with the proposed community center and with hospital, clinic and nursing home expansion and construction. Without passage of the sales tax measure, these projects will not move forward, according to the economic development corporation.

A public meeting on the sales tax measure will be held Monday at 5 p.m. in City Hall in Watford City.

Other sales tax measures will be on ballots in Harvey, Berthold and Stanley.

Residents of Harvey will vote on whether to add a second 1 percent sales tax for general infrastructure improvements, including water, sewer, roads, utilities and any associated debt. The city’s existing 1 percent sales tax is dedicated to economic development. A 1 percent sales tax raises about $200,000 a year in Harvey, according to the auditor’s office.

Berthold voters will see a measure on the ballot to extend an existing 1 percent sales tax for 10 years. The tax sunsets at the end of 2015, but the city is seeking a vote at this year’s regular city election rather than hold a special election next year.

Tax proceeds are divided with 40 percent going to city infrastructure and 60 percent to the economic development corporation for business development and community projects.

City auditor Penni Miller said the city council is looking to update its ordinance to adjust the proceeds distribution. The city is considering allocating 50 percent to public services such as a sewage lagoon, fire, police and ambulance services and the child care center. The other 50 percent would continue to go to economic development but the city would control the use of half of that money while the development corporation would distribute the other half.

Stanley voters will decide whether to continue their existing 1.5 percent sales tax for another six years. The Mountrail County Medical Center gets half a percent, and the remainder goes largely for economic development but also for municipal improvements, recreational improvements and library.

In the arena of property taxes, Pierce County voters are being asked to increase the tax levy for historical work in the county.

The existing levy generates about $7,270 a year for the Geographical Center Historical Society for historic preservation at Prairie Village Museum in Rugby. If increased to the requested .75 mills, the tax would generate about $19,000. The measure requires 60 percent approval to pass.

According to the historical society, .75 mills would cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $5 a year. The owner of an average quarter of farmland would pay less than $3.

“We just absolutely have to have more money to do what we do,” said Cathy Jelsing, executive director for the museum. “We have gone over budget $3,000 to $4,000 every year, and we have cut back on staff this year.”

The reduction in staff is significant because the museum already is falling behind in its ability to maintain the condition of its artifact collection, she said.

“We can keep the doors open and we can have activities, but we are just not getting to really take care of the collections like we would like,” she said. “It’s unsustainable at the level we are at right now.”

The museum has existed since 1965. The additional money would go to maintain the 30 aging buildings and provide staffing, training and equipment to properly care for the donated items on display. It also would enable the society to continue to offer educational programming and entertainment.

Jelsing said buildings are being maintained, and some buildings have had maintenance accounts set up for them. However, upkeep on one of the structures recently was so expensive that it exhausted the building’s maintenance fund.

The museum’s other sources of funding are admissions, society memberships, donations and grants.

“Most of them are matching grants,” Jelsing said. “If we don’t have the funds to match the grants, we can’t apply.”

A similar measure to increase the tax failed in 2012. Jelsing said the historical society is working harder this time around to ensure that residents understand the society’s purpose and work. That work has become more visible in the past few years with the number of activities happening at the museum.

The museum registered 4,000 visitors last year, of which about two-thirds were tourists from outside the county, Jelsing said.

Jelsing stressed that the museum isn’t in crisis, but its future does depend on the care-taking that’s done today.

“In order to avert a crisis, we would have to cut back on what we do here. That’s what we don’t want to have happen,” she said.

In Makoti, voters are being asked to raise the maximum tax levy for the Makoti Park Board from 5.6 mills to 10 mills due to increasing expenses for the city pool. Park board chairman Leroy Anderson said the price of pool chemicals has gone sky high.

The mill increase will provide more than $1,100 in additional revenue to fund the pool.

A ballot measure in Mountrail County asks residents living in the proposed Stanley Rural Ambulance Service District to approve a levy of up to 10 mills to create the district. The district would include Palermo, Blaisdell, Stanley, Ross and the rural area in those vicinities.

Squad leader Debbie Johnson said that although the levy maximum is 10 mills, the district likely would levy only 3 or 4 mills. She said often it is difficult to get grants without showing that the ambulance service is tapping into all of its other sources of funding, including property tax.

The extra revenue would assist the ambulance squad to maintain services while also positioning the service to acquire more staff and vehicles that are expected to be needed in the future. The squad has two paid staff who are supplemented with volunteers and has two ambulances. It is in the process of replacing its older vehicle and would like to have a third ambulance, Johnson said.

Surrey residents will vote on whether to continue a contract with North Prairie Rural Water for municipal water service. North Dakota law allows cities to contract with another entity for water but the contract must be authorized by an ordinance approved by voters. City auditor Jason Vaagen said a contract renewal must be handled in that same manner, and since Surrey’s 40-year contract with North Prairie will expire at the end of the year unless renewed, the city is taking the vote at this time. The expiration date of any new contract hasn’t been determined yet.

In other communities, Lignite residents will vote on establishing a home rule charter, and Washburn residents will vote to amend their home rule charter to remove the $25 cap on sales tax on a single purchase. Washburn levies a 2 percent sales tax.

Williams County voters will decide whether to increase the monthly fee for 911 service from $1 to $1.50. Mountrail County residents will vote on continuation of an existing $1 a month charge on phone bills for 911 service.