County sales tax extension may require considerable campaign

If indeed Ward County voters are presented with the question of extending the county’s half percent sales tax beyond 2022, proponents should be prepared for an informational campaign about the merits of the measure.

Currently, the tax is set to sunset at the end of 2022. The county is working to place the question on the June, 2020 primary ballot. The county asserts the tax would need to continue until construction bonds are paid off, at least until 2026, although the commission didn’t set a specific time frame for the extension.

By June, various factors are likely to influence the vote. The greatest opposition might be the general resistance to additional taxes in the community, despite the fact that this would not be “additional” – it’s just maintaining the status quo. Voters might feel differently.

There are also unpredictable factors. Looming large are questions about the national economy and the possible ramifications on the local economy, which could influence any voter decision on taxes. It’s questionable if the national economy will be struggling next year because differentiating between political rhetoric and reasonable prediction models is particularly difficult these days.

The sales tax extension has notable factors in its favor. It is an extension, not a new tax. Area taxpayers are seeing their property taxes stabilizing. The half-percent tax also has dedicated purposes.

Still, Ward County is likely to face some resistance.

Minot Daily News believes an informational campaign is called for. That information should include a sunset timeline and additional details about the use of the funds. Commissioner John Fjeldahl mentioned at this week’s county commission meeting that the county has spent only $3 million of the $10 for highway projects promised to voters when they passed the sales tax in 2012. A sales tax extension could enable the county to provide the remaining $7 million without borrowing, he said. Defining and marketing what those projects would be could also influence voters.

Armed with enough information, MDN believes that county voters will make the correct, informed decision.