Self-reliance and finance dominate Chamber of Commerce Grand Forks County Commission forum – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — As two outgoing members of the Grand Forks County Commission oppose on behalf of a proposal to create home rule in the county, not everyone in the Nov. 8 ballot is in favor agreement with the plan.

Bob Rost and Tom Falck, current commission members seeking re-election, reaffirmed their support for self-reliance during an hour-long forum Tuesday night at Grand Forks City Hall. The event – ​​sponsored by the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce – specifically honed in on candidates’ views on the proposed charter for self-government, a measure that will also be determined by county voters on November 8. .

Rost and Falck are for the proposal. The forum did not specifically ask the candidates whether they were for or against autonomy, but each candidate stated or alluded to their beliefs in response.

Those running for the three spots are Falck, Kimberly Hagen, KC Inman, Lon Kvasager, Rost and Mark Rustad.

Moderator Stacey Dahl, co-chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, opened the discussion, “The Home Rule Charter is on the ballot and I’d love to hear your input, feedback, and thoughts on if it’s a good proposition for voters,” she said.

Falck and Rost’s interest in home rule is no mystery.

The opinions of the other candidates, however, are not as widely known. And while the commissioners themselves won’t decide home rule — again, that has to be determined by a countywide vote — their beliefs in the proposal could perhaps help voters predict what kind of Commissioner they will be if elected.

“I’m against it,” Rustad said flatly when asked Tuesday. “I don’t think we’re in a climate where any sort of tax increase is going to be a help. I understand that autonomy does not automatically mean higher taxes, but my position is simple: I am against it.”

Hagen is also not convinced of home rule.

“People I talk to about home rule aren’t very fond of it, mainly because of the increase in taxes. Yes, mill royalties may go down, but there’s no guarantee they won’t go up,” she said. “Right now people are struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent and their mortgage and they don’t want to live in fear that their taxes will go up again.”

Kvasager worries about how voters will perceive the question on the ballot. Specifically, they will be asked these two questions:

  1. Does the Grand Forks County Self-Government Charter, as approved and submitted to the electorate by the Grand Forks County Commission, require approval?
  2. Will an addendum to the Grand Forks County Home Rule Charter be approved which would establish a one-half cent sales and use tax to be assessed and the proceeds of which would be affected as follows: 60% would be allocated to fund the expansion, renovation, construction, acquisition and maintenance of infrastructure needs in Grand Forks County, including the Grand Forks County Correctional Center, Detention Center for miners and the law enforcement center, 20% dedicated to property tax relief and 20% dedicated to Grand Forks County roads, bridges and culverts, and planning for a sunset on December 31, 2048?

Above all, if question A does not pass, question B is irrelevant.
“It’s going to be a bit difficult to make sure voters understand that part,” Kvasager said.

He acknowledged that “it gives us the opportunity to seek additional taxes”. But later, in a follow-up question about the half-cent tax, he said: “I would say that (voters) are not ready for additional taxes. I would have to agree with Kim and Mark on that too. Maybe it’s not the right time. I think it will happen, but maybe not this time.

Inman added that the home rule would include other lesser-known changes, including limiting the number of terms a commissioner can serve and allowing the commission to pass certain regulations and rules — but not new taxes — without county-wide voting. He feels like people who think it will raise taxes “don’t see it right.”

“I really believe in home rule,” he said.

Rost said the house rule is “something we really need”. Both he and Falck have pointed out – in past interviews and at Tuesday’s forum – that infrastructure needs and costs are growing rapidly and that right now the obvious alternative is to raise property taxes. to finance them.

They both said they think a better method would be for voters to approve the proposed half-cent sales tax to meet those costs, rather than simply raise property taxes. Essentially, they say, someone will pick up the costs, and just as well be spread more evenly across the county — especially visitors who use local resources but pay nothing to do so.

“I travel, because of my family, to Fargo, Bismarck, and Williston and pay sales tax in those three counties (and they’re building) brand new correctional centers,” Falck said. “Our town is full of visitors on weekends and during the week and they don’t pay anything (Grand Forks Correctional Institutions). We have a lot of people…from outside of this community who are kept in this facility at the expense of our taxpayers.

Candidates were also asked a general question about the county’s current position on taxes.

Inman said without knowing enough about the budget, it’s hard to answer the question.

Hagen said commissioners need to do better to ensure taxpayers’ money is being used properly. “Can we lower them? Can we do things to reduce the budget? I think we need to be good tax stewards,” she said.

Falck said between his eight years on the commission and working with commissioners before that as a county employee, he believes “everyone (of the commissioners) is doing their best to reduce taxes.” But, he said, county residents want good services and “most of our budget is salaries.” He believes that the tax cut argument is not the solution.

“I believe the best way to solve our problem is through economic development,” he said. Another 5,000 community residents would not tax current county staff, he said, but would bring considerable revenue to the county.

Rustad, who has considerable property management experience, said he understands taxes are unavoidable, but “I would never vote for a property tax increase under any circumstances. I think there’s always fat that can be cut.

Rost said he doesn’t want to raise property taxes either, but “that’s why I’m so in favor of the half-cent sales tax.” …I want people who come into the community, who shop and stay in our hotels and go to entertainment, to help pay for what we need in Grand Forks County, like the other 12 counties in Dakota North (which have an internal regime). ”

Kvasager said no one wanted to see higher taxes, but “property tax, it’s probably inevitable that it has to go up a bit.” He added that the sales tax would also raise funds.

“It is true that other people would come from outside the county and also help pay some of these taxes,” he said.

A little about each candidate:

  • Falck is the current chairman of the county commission. He has spent more than three decades as an assistant state attorney and the past eight years on the commission.
  • Hagen has a background in business, marketing and finance. She is now a stay-at-home mom raising three children.
  • Rost, also the incumbent, is a longtime former county sheriff with extensive law enforcement and security experience.
  • Inman is an Air Force veteran who remained in Grand Forks after his enlistment ended. He built the modern information system and he is now semi-retired.
  • Kvasager owned several businesses and worked in different areas of sales. He is now a financial manager in a local company.
  • Rustad is a building operator, property manager and landlord. Earlier this year, he started a housing supervisor position at UND.

The commission forum was followed by a forum featuring candidates seeking to represent District 43 in the state legislature.

Aurora J. William