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Sales tax revenue for gathering space should be a non-starter

Assuming that the City of Minot continues its effort to develop a gathering space in the downtown area as planned, the city council decision Monday night to change the desired location makes sense.

By a 5-2 vote, the council decided to approach Trinity Health about acquiring its parking lot abutting Broadway, identified as Site 1. This came in the aftermath of long negotiations with property owners of parcels making up Site 2 (which a city poll revealed was more desirable than Site 1) were unsuccessful. Site 1 requires an agreement with only Trinity.

The idea of continuing to negotiate with Site 2 owners to purchase those properties that would be available and reconfiguring the plans for the gathering space is an intriguing one since it would presumably shrink the footprint and cost less in property acquisition. But it could also likely extend the timeline and would still require more than one agreement to acquire property.

One idea expressed previously should be shelved – swapping the gathering place money with sales tax dollars for flood protection property acquisition. The National Disaster Resilience money could be used for additional acquisitions while the city would proceed to use sales tax to develop a gathering space without NDR constraints.

Mayor Shaun Sipma warned against such a move because legislators watch the local allocation to flood protection when they decide on state assistance.

“If we start diverting money from our need of flood control, it is going to set a very, very, very bad precedent for us politically,” Sipma said.

Sipma is correct, but there is another reason that strategy is perilous. Regardless of how much effort has been made to market the fact that the gathering space is funded by NDR dollars, many still are under the assumption that local taxpayers are footing the bill for the project and they object to the use of tax dollars. Making the perception reality, even with the previously proposed swap of funding streams, isn’t just bad precedent, it is political poison.

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