County supports Big M redevelopment

Commission approves tax break for developer

Ward County commissioners rejected Tax Increment Financing for the developer of Minot’s downtown Big M building Tuesday.

Instead, the commission approved an eight-year property-tax abatement for EPIC Companies that carries just over half the tax concession of a proposed TIF with the City of Minot. The tax break is estimated at roughly $250,000. The city and county will be crunching numbers to determine an accurate figure.

Todd Berning, president of EPIC, welcomed the commission’s decision.

“Eight years was nice. It’s definitely going to be a big help, and hopefully we move forward and get rolling. We’re ready to go,” he said after the commission’s action.

It likely will be the end of June before the public sees physical construction occurring at the building, but construction activity will be happening behind the scenes, he said. Work should begin soon to prepare the building for internal demolition and asbestos abatement, he said.

The city had proposed borrowing $2.7 million to go toward asbestos abatement and demolition. Through the economic development tool known as TIF, 90% of tax collections from EPIC on improvements to the building would go to pay the debt over 20 years. Without the county’s participation, the amount of assistance would have to be reduced to $2.25 million.

Commissioner Howard “Bucky” Anderson said the city can make a $2.7 million TIF work without the county by adjusting the tax allocation from 90% to 100%.

“This could be done without the county,” he said. “It should not be done without the county, in my opinion. The county needs to provide some support and provide some responsibility.”

Commissioner Shelly Weppler’s motion to approve participation in a TIF for 10 years failed to get a second, but Anderson revived it to generate discussion. That motion failed 2-3 with Weppler and Jim Rostad voting in support.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl proposed a six-year tax abatement, which failed 2-3.

“I do hear from people that think we should do nothing,” Fjeldahl said. “But I kind of agree with Mr. Anderson. We should participate in some degree.”

Commissioner John Pietsch, who joined Weppler and Rostad to defeat Fjeldahl’s motion, questioned tax breaks that widen the gap between the wealthy and the working middle class.

“Somehow we, as elected officials, are able to create unique situations for tax breaks for special people. In order to justify the special breaks, we state that they are available to all taxpayers, when in reality most, if not all, would never qualify or be too decent to apply at all. I questioned the ethics and priorities of any organization that doesn’t feel the need to pay its fair share of taxes, which in turn takes resources away from education, street repair, road repair, law enforcement, public health and safety. Why should the rest of us have to pay for their share of taxes for the services that they would also enjoy?” he said.

Anderson proposed an eight-year tax break as a compromise between the six-year tax break and 10-year TIF. His motion was successful, with only Pietsch voting against.

“Mr. Anderson has mentioned compromise,” Pietsch said. “I guess where I come from, you don’t compromise when it’s right or wrong. You try and do what’s right.”


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