Ward County residents are getting a third chance to vote on a county building and remodeling project in general-election voting that ends Nov. 6.
Ward County commissioners believe they've hit on the right solution this time in proposing a half-percent sales tax that would end after 10 years, or earlier if necessary funds come in quickly.
"This is the most fair tax that we can come up with," Commissioner Bruce Christianson told members of Minot Rotary Monday. "The half-cent sales tax means no property-tax increase. That's one of the things we need to keep in mind as we would put this tax in place. Everyone is eligible to contribute everybody who spends money in Ward County, not just the property owner."
The ballot measure proposes a sales tax to generate $39.3 million. The largest share of money generated, $15.3 million, would go to construct a county office building north of the existing courthouse. Another $10.5 million would pay for improvements and expansion at the jail. The county would spend $3.5 million to remodel the present courthouse. The final $10 million would go to roads and other infrastructure.
Ward County will have a second measure on the ballot to increase the 9-1-1 monthly fee on phone users by 50 cents to $1.50.
In 2008, residents voted down a 5-mill building fund that would have raised nearly $4.4 million between 2010 and 2015. It failed by a wide margin of 17,101 to 6,587. Voters rejected a $19.9 million bond issue for a new building in 2006 on a vote of 10,018 to 6,370.
"Some people thought that project was a little bit extravagant," Christianson said. The newly proposed building, in contrast, he said, is simply convenient and efficient.
"This is a building that you will be proud of as taxpayers in Ward County," Christianson said. "It's not extravagant by any means. It's efficient. It's functional, and that is what we need. Some people have commented it is just a want. But it is not. ... It is a need, as well as the jail, which is over-crowded."
The county also would like to bring Ward County Social Services from rental space into the new office building, centralizing county services and ending a lease that costs $332,000 a year, or about 1.5 mills on the property tax.
Christianson also noted the expansion is needed because of county growth. The county's population increased from 30,000 people in 1920 to 60,000 people in 2010. The projection for 2020 is 78,000 people.
Christianson said the sales tax is expected to generate $6 million to $7 million a year. If so, it would produce the necessary $39.3 million in six to seven years. The tax would be levied on all currently taxable purchases, with a county sales-tax cap of $12.50 on any single purchase.
Christianson said commissioners have no intention of extending the tax for any other purpose once it expires.
"You can come and ask but we are going to tell you 'no,' " he said. "We promise you the five of us today that it will come to an end."