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Forum delves into proposed sales tax amendment

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Dickinson, 58602

Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

DICKINSON - The Dickinson City Commission on Thursday responded to the public's questions and concerns about the proposed amendment to the city's sales tax ordinance.

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"It's not a new tax. It's a proposal that grants the city commission greater latitude regarding the spending of the half-cent sales tax," said Mayor Dennis Johnson, who gave a slide presentation explaining the amendment.

On June 10, Dickinson residents are to vote on whether a portion of the tax should be spent on large-scale community projects.

Currently, the proceeds from the tax are dedicated to:

-Construction, repair and operation of the West River Community Center.

-Property tax reduction.

-Street, water and sewer costs.

With the community center completed and covering its daily operating costs, commissioners are advocating residents vote to add language to the ordinance that would allow the tax to also be spent on "other capital improvements to enhance social and economic vitality of Dickinson and the Southwest area."

"Dickinson benefits from capital investments. I think that's been demonstrated in the last eight years. That if you improve your community, people will want to live here, and economic development happens where people want to live," Johnson said.

The proposed Badlands Activities Center is being considered as one of the first projects the tax would help fund.

The BAC is to include a 4,000-seat football stadium, a track, locker rooms and 16,000 square-feet of indoor multi-purpose space on the campus of Dickinson State University. It would be built on the site of Whitney Stadium.

Johnson estimated that DSU will ask the city to contribute $5 million to $6 million to the project.

Beyond the BAC, other projects being eyed are new fairgrounds, an outdoor water park and, farther out, a new regional hospital.

"This sales tax amendment would grant authority to the city commission to respond to these projects...in a timely and responsible manner," Johnson said.

Dickinson resident Ed Williams, one of about 20 people who attended the City Hall meeting, said the half-cent sales tax was originally sold as a funding source for the community center and that it should no longer be levied now that the project is finished.

"Why don't we let that happen and propose additional taxes for large capital projects as they come along? That gives people the opportunity to fully participate in discussions. And granted, those things typically take a little bit longer than having a small group of people decide how to spend our money," Williams said.

Johnson agreed with Williams that letting people vote separately on every large-scale project is admirable but said the city cannot afford to move at the pace such a system would demand.

"That's a good thing, but it's also a slow thing. And events move pretty quickly in this world today for us, even in our own small community of Dickinson," Johnson said. "If we take each project to a vote, it takes a committed group of people who are willing to raise money, take the time, go out to the community and organize these things. I'm not so sure we're always going to have a committed group of people to do that."

On March 17, the city commission unanimously decided to put the proposed amendment on the June 10 ballot.

The half-cent sales tax brought in $1.3 million in 2007 and a similar amount is being projected for 2008.

The tax was established in 2001. It came in addition to a one-percent sales tax, which was created in 1990.

The one-percent tax is distributed as such:

-Fifty percent is for paying off debt, reducing property taxes and covering infrastructure expenses.

-Thirty percent is dedicated to community development projects.

-Twenty percent is for job creation and senior citizen activities.

In total, the city levies 1.5 percent in sales taxes on most purchases.

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