Nancy Edmonds Hanson
An attempt to change Moorhead’s governing charter to permit the city to join the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and other private organizations stalled again at Monday’s council meeting, leaving its future uncertain.
Currently down to six members, the council unanimously voted to table the measure that would change the charter. A unanimous vote would have been necessary to pass the measure.
It was the measure’s second, and last, reading. Several members had asked for more time to hear from constituents about the change, which would have been required to legally permit the council to authorize membership – a change from the city’s supportive but non-member status in the past. Members reported receiving a number of comments from the public over the past two weeks as well – most positive, according to Heidi Durand (who had advocated more citizen input), but also some that questioned the open-ended nature of the charter revision’s wording, which would authorize the city “to become a member of private organizations and local chambers of commerce, to designate representatives from the city council to serve in the organization(s) and chamber(s) and to appropriate funds to cover membership fees, costs and expenses associated with private organizations and local chambers of commerce.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s positions on some issues were also mentioned, she said.
Several Moorhead residents spoke on Monday urging passage, including past Chamber president Doug Restemayer and Dave Anderson. While Mayor Johnathan Judd took care to explain the debate was about the charter measure – and not the Chamber – Restemayer cautioned, “The chamber of commerce does great things, and not to be part of it is a great disservice to our community.” He said the cities of Fargo, West Fargo and Dilworth are already members.
Anderson noted the value of the council’s ability to “represent Moorhead on as many fronts as possible. This measure would allow us to affiliate where we must to work for our citizens.” He added that, if passed, the change would allow the current and future councils to make the decision to be part of groups in the future … or not.
Changing the charter has been under discussion for months because Minnesota state law does not allow cities to be members of their local chambers of commerce. The League of Minnesota Cities’ position, based on the state attorney general’s opinion, is that charter cities like Moorhead can in fact belong if it is specifically permitted by their governing charters. Thus, to become a member, Moorhead must first enact a change in its charter.
Durand observed that the council has succeeded in the past in finding ways to solve problems “so that the largest number of people are satisfied.” That prompted council member Chuck Hendrickson to ask city attorney John Shockley whether state law bars the Moorhead Economic Development Authority from membership, as it does the city. The attorney replied, “The EDA has specific statutory authority to become a member.”
After more comments weighing the value of chamber membership for economic development versus the long-term impact of changing the charter, Durand made a motion to table the measure that would have approved the change. After it was seconded by Dahlquist, the council voted unanimously to table the discussion.
3 percent tax boost proposed
Moorhead’s 2020 operating budget won’t be finalized until December, but state law requires that preliminary numbers be proposed and a maximum possible tax increase set by the end of September. The city took the first steps Monday, with Finance Director Karla McCall reviewing the proposed operating and capital budget. The council will vote to adopt the preliminary plan and certify the proposed tax levy at its Sept. 23 meeting.
McCall cited increases in a variety of operating costs, including legal costs, motor fuel costs, the per diem for elected officials traveling out of town, pavement marking, the city’s lease of the Joint Law Enforcement Center, and support of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center and the Moorhead Public Library. Positions will be added in Human Resources and the city planning department, as well as overtime for fire and police personnel and a compost assistant. The proposed tax levy totals $15.5 million.
Meanwhile, valuation of property in the city’s tax base has increased by $321,000 in the past year, down from growth of three-quarters of a million dollars the previous year. Dividing the budget by the tax base, McCall said, leads to a residential tax increase for 2020 of 3% – close to the average of the past five years. She said that amounts to $1.78 per month for owners of a home valued at the city’s median price of $185,900, or about $21 per year. Taxes on a $300,000 home would rise $3.15 per month or about $38. The 3% figure, McCall noted, sets the maximum amount that could be levied next year. “That number can’t go up after you’ve certified it,” she told the council. “But it can go down.
She noted, however, that no matter what is finalized for 2020 in December, the commercial and industrial tax rate will remain level. That’s because the 2019 Legislature enacted permanent funding for border cities tax credits, making the state’s support – which reimburses a portion of what would otherwise be charged to businesses – stable and predictable.