Voting sites to return to campuses in 2019

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

After six weeks of intense debate, the Moorhead City Council has decided to return to on-campus polling locations for Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College students for elections in the year ahead.
Moorhead had operated separate on-campus voting sites for dormitory-dwelling collegians since 2012 until this year, when they were combined with the larger neighborhoods surrounding the campuses. City officials said the move – which came up for intense debate only a few weeks prior to the general election – was based on equipment costs and efficiency, coupled with low student turnout, especially in primaries. Opponents contended it presented a stumbling block to the young adults’ involvement. Thanks to shuttle buses organized by the city, Clay County DFL and MSUM Student Senate, however, student turnout ultimately exceeded previous years.
City Clerk Lance Beachem presented council members with three choices: to retain the combined polling sites for Precinct 5 (MSUM area) and Precinct 6 (Concordia area) used in this month’s election; to return to the dual locations, with on-campus spots exclusively for residential students; or to combine the precincts again … but on the campuses, rather than off campus at First Presbyterian and Grace United Methodist Churches.
After hearing from Concordia President Bill Craft, the council ultimately voted, 6 to 2, to return to two separate sites in each precinct. The two dissenters favored a single on-campus location in each.
Craft told the council he and MSUM President Anne Blackhurst strongly agreed polling sites should be brought back to their campuses. “Our schools are the engine room that drives democracy, where students learn to be effective citizens of our democracy,” he said.
The group approved one more change as well. Voters in Precinct 8, covering the southwest corner of the city, will once gain use the facilities at Bethesda Lutheran Church instead of Bluestem Center for the Arts. Resident Rose Andersen told members that elderly and handicapped voters struggled with the higher curbs and more distant parking at the performing arts venue, which was used for the first time this year.

In other business:
K&M Investments, led by local businessman Pat Kovash, was granted an Urban Progress Zone tax exemption for a proposed building at 1301 First Ave. N. To be constructed on the site of the now-demolished Matson Oil Company, the structure will house six commercial condominium or leased units intended to house plumbers, electricians and other small businesses. Completion is expected by April 2019. The improvements, pegged at $840,000, will receive tax benefits totaling $80,000 – including full property tax exemption for four years and declining amounts over the next four.
City Finance Manager Wanda Wagner offered details of the 2019 city budget, on which the council will vote Dec. 10. The 2019 total of about $84 million represents an increase of $1.8 million over the current year. “The good news,” she said, “is that new construction and rising property values help balance the budget,” along with the expiration of some tax exemptions and refinancing the city’s existing debt.
The city’s share of residents’ property tax bills will increase about 3 percent, or $20 for a home at the city’s median value of $180,000. Clay County also projects a slight increase, but school district taxes will decrease next year. Net result: A total property tax boost on that median home of only $4.
The council approved a seemingly small transfer of jurisdiction of several stretches of streets that could have big implications for downtown redevelopment, public safety and the proposed 11th Street railroad underpass. City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the city was accepting oversight of Eighth Street between Main and Center avenues, as well as east to 11th Street on Center. That stretch is presently overseen by the Minnesota Department of Transportation as part of US Highways 10/75. In return, MnDOT plans to adjust the federal highway route to follow Eighth Street, then follow Main east to 11th Street before crossing the tracks there. Along with diverting truck traffic away from downtown, the move positions the 11th Street railroad grade separation on the trunk highway route.
Assistant planner Kim Citrowske filled in council members on an upcoming invitation to artists formulated by the Arts and Culture Commission. Thanks to an anonymous donation of $25,000, the commission will next month extend an invitation to artists to submit proposals for visual or performing arts projects inspired by the theme “Moorhead Proud.” More details will be available next month.

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