City needs time to ‘sell’ flood protection finance

Residents of Minot have made it very clear that flood protection is their top local priority and, while there are always criticisms, most appear supportive of the plan now already in the works.

However, building support for the eventual specific plan to pay for flood protection is going to take some time and some effort on the part of city officials.

This is not something specific to Minot or specifically in regard to big-ticket expenditures like flood protection. It’s a common dynamic. Residents tend to want things, might not delve deeply into details, and then balk when the price tag comes due. It’s human instinct and government institutions are largely responsible for the cynicism with which many see public expenditures: at every level, government frequently demonstrates how easy it is to spend other people’s money.

To be clear, few are asserting that the flood protection plan is wasteful. But too few are also probably following every meeting, idea and discussion taking place about how to pay for it, and thus there are going to be plenty of people with strong reactions when the city has to tighten its financial belt.

The current plan, which is headed to the city council, proposes to phase in reallocation of revenue from one, and then two, pennies of sales tax to flood protection. That will mean that direct property tax relief, economic development and infrastructure improvements – if they are to remain funded – will eventually have to be funded from property taxes. That will pinch taxpayers and prompt complaints – particularly when local property tax relief and the state property tax relief are both gone in a few years.

Flood protection will hit everyone’s budget in the not-too-distant future.

City leadership must double down on its efforts to communicate the plan and its ramifications on residents. A legitimate complaint about Minot City Hall is that leaders have not always done a good job at communicating with taxpayers. It is also a legitimate observation that residents who pay attention to city government and/or media, can be as well-informed as they so choose.

Still, given the enormity of this issue and of the project, the impetus must be on the city council and administration to “sell” the plan, its finance engine and what it will mean to city revenue and taxes in the future. It will take considerable effort, but will be well worth it.