A new half-cent sales tax dedicated to public safety will appear on the November ballot.
The sales tax would supplant, not supplement, money being drawn from Dickinson's general fund, Haylee Cripe, sales tax committee member, explained at the Aug. 7 meeting of the city commissioners.
"Public safety taxes the general fund pretty heavily," Cripe said. "About 41 percent of the general fund goes to public safety."
For 2019, the Dickinson Police Department is requesting a $5.6 million budget and Dickinson Fire Department is requesting $2.3 million, Cripe said.
Both departments draw from the general fund, which holds less than $19 million.
The new sales tax proceeds would be exclusively allocated for public safety purposes.
"Instead of taking that $7.7 million out of the general fund, you'd have some amount from the sales tax to offset that and free up some general fund dollars," Cripe said.
From the proceeds, 60 percent would go to replacing what is being drawn from the general fund for the two departments' budgets. The remaining 40 percent would go to public safety projects.
"That's money they're guaranteed to have that won't have to come from the general fund," Cripe said. "This does leave more money to offset other needs, such as property tax relief or debt payments."
The new tax would generate about $1.3 million in 2019 for the city and $2.63 million in 2020, Cripe said.
"That jump is because in 2019 we're only going to have a partial year of collections," she said. "We're not assuming the economy in Dickinson will explode that amount to compensate for that difference."
Because the tax income would be uncertain each year, the ordinance sets an amount that is guaranteed, with the departments receiving the first $1 million in proceeds or 60 percent of total proceeds, whichever is greater.
"In the first year you'll see that $1 million is obviously greater than the 60 percent, because we're only anticipating $1.3 million," Cripe said.
The current sales tax rate for Dickinson is 6.5 percent, with 5 percent going to the state and 1.5 percent remaining with the city.
If passed, the total sales tax collected in Dickinson would be 7 percent.
A 7 percent total sales tax would be comparable to other North Dakota cities, Cripe said.
All cities have a 5 percent state mandate. Grand Forks has a 2.25 percent city sales tax; Jamestown, 2 percent; and Fargo, West Fargo and Minot have 2 percent, with additional county sales tax.
"By comparison...7 percent would not be out of line," she said.
The funds would go toward equipment and training, and facilitating enhanced standards for department coverage and response.
"They feel a little bit inadequate being able to respond to some of the outlying areas as quickly as they need," Cripe said.
Being able to replace needed equipment is a key benefit.
"The apparatuses the police and fire departments have are expensive and trying to replace those spur-of-the-moment, without having those reserve funds, can be taxing on the city," Cripe said.
The DFD would use the funds for a regional training facility, and the DPD would use funds for its drug task force and creating a juvenile services division.
"Ideally, what they'd like is an additional school resource officer to get into the elementary schools," Cripe said. "Kids are being exposed to things earlier and earlier and waiting to just have that (SRO) at the high school, but often some of those problems have occurred two or three years earlier."
The tax would be paid by anyone who shops in Dickinson and relies on public safety while in the city, Cripe said.
"It spreads the burden over users of the system," she said.
Exemptions for the tax would include food products for human consumption, water and gas utilities, gasoline and prescription drugs.
The impact would be minimal, Cripe said. The cost of a fast food meal would increase by .03 cents, not even one penny; .15 cents for a $30 pair of pants; and $2 for a $400 dishwasher.
"The impact on an individual scale overall can be nominal," she said, "but when you spread that over the entire base that shops here, it becomes pretty powerful."
A public hearing on the petition for a new sales tax, held at the Aug. 7 commissioners meeting, yielded no comments or concerns.
The petition for the proposed new ordinance was approved by city commissioners for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.