Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Moorhead home owners will see their city property taxes rise in 2021 … but only amounting to pocket change.
Finance director Karla McCall shared preliminary budget figures with the city council Monday that propose the smallest tax increase in the past six years – just 2%. That would amount to $3.28 per year for a home valued at $185,000, the city’s median … or 27 cents per month. A $300,000 home would see an increase of 48 cents, or $5.79 for the year.
Taxes are expected to remain level for business and industry, as well as rental property, thanks to the state’s Border Cities Enterprise Zone program.
In addition to the city’s levy, property tax bills also include amounts for the school district, county and several smaller government entities. Increases in assessed market value also may affect the total bill.
Acting city manager Dan Mahli told the council that building the next year’s budget was incredibly challenging. He asked department heads to reduce their budget requests by 2% whenever that was possible, as well as to put off purchasing vehicles and equipment for a year. “We told them, ‘If you don’t need it, don’t ask,’” he added.
McCall detailed the city’s major sources of revenue for council members. Thirty percent of general fund revenues come from property taxes; 74% of that total is paid by residential properties. Another 27% is transferred from city-owned utilities, most of it (83%) coming from Moorhead Public Service’s electrical operation. Another 22% is local government aid from the state. The balance includes federal and state grants, fees and charges.
City economic development consultant Derrick LaPoint reported that the city received more than 200 applications for its Moorhead CARES grant program, which closed Aug. 31. He said $1.7 million in CARES grants has been allotted, with recipients including 90 businesses with fewer than 20 employees; 42 sole proprietorships; 15 nonprofit organizations; and 63 minority- and women-owned businesses. Final letters of approval will be mailed Friday.
He said the parallel program operated by Clay County received more than 120 applications from outside the city, with awards totaling almost $1 million. The city and county continue to work together on a possible second round that may assist businesses of more than 20 staffers, as well as assisted-living and other care facilities.
I-94 and 8th
LaPoint shared a heads-up about a major development at the southeast quadrant of Interstate 94 and Eighth Street that, he said, “you’ll be hearing a lot about in days to come.” Enclave Development is planning a $30 million commercial and residential development for which tax increment financing will be requested. Because several properties in that area are under foreclosures, he said the planning – already on a tight time schedule – “is messy.” But he expressed optimism about the prospect: “It’s a very exciting project that could change the character of a major corridor dramatically.”
Juneteenth, Small Biz Week
The city council unanimously approved adding two observances to the Moorhead calendar – Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day the last slaves learned of their emancipation, and Small Business Week.
The Juneteenth proclamation was requested by the city’s Human Rights Commission. Chairman Cani Adan noted that the annual observance “celebrates the resilience of Black people in America.” It is already celebrated in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Proclaiming next week as Small Business Week is especially important this year, LaPoint told the council, because of the difficulties they face during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation’s 30 million small businesses, from storefront shops to high-tech startups, provide nearly two-thirds of the United States’ 30 million jobs.
Mosquitoes and Loans
The council spent much of its three-hour meeting Monday discussing two controversial issues facing the community – regulating so-called “payday,” or short-term consumer, loans, and reviewing the city’s support of aerial spraying to control mosquitoes.
Council member Heidi Durand has long advocated changing city regulations governing the two private small-loan providers in the city. In Monday’s hearing, she said, “Often people are not aware of the level of financial suffering experienced by some of our neighbors. We need to step up as a community to help people find healthier ways of getting out of financial distress.”
She advocated passage of a proposed ordinance – supported by the Human Rights Commission — that would limit interest rates to 33%, permit no more than two loans of $1,000 or less to an individual each year, set limits on fees and require a minimum repayment period of 60 days. It would also mandate annual reports to the city along with requests for license renewals that would include the total number of loans per year, their total dollar amount, and the average interest charged.
Ben Prather, who manages Cass County Vector Control, appeared along with public works director Steve Moore to talk about aerial mosquito spraying over the city. Moorhead has contracted with the Cass County agency since 2016 to control its mosquito population.
Prather addressed the controversy that erupted after spraying Aug. 26 resulted in the deaths of untold numbers of monarch butterflies, as well as other vulnerable pollinators. While he stressed that “best practices” were followed complying with all state and federal laws, he mentioned that three state agencies in Minnesota and North Dakota are currently reviewing the operation. “I’m confident they will find no violations,” he said.
He noted that the number of mosquitoes found in some traps that monitor the population across the metropolitan area had been setting 10-year records in the days before the spraying, which followed heavy rains immediately south of the metro area. The burgeoning numbers coincided with the peak season for species that carry West Nile virus … as well as the annual migration of the endangered orange-and-black butterflies.
Council member Steve Lindaas suggested setting up a working group to study the practice and its impact before a new contract is issues for 2021. Moore agreed with the idea, but cautioned those advocating the elimination of the aerial insecticide application: “I get calls from 20 or 30 residents complaining about the mosquitoes for everyone who doesn’t want us to do it.”