Subscribe for 33¢ / day

BISMARCK, N.D. — Funding options to pay for $500 million in road projects will be part of the discussion Tuesday as the Bismarck City Commission takes testimony about the city's new growth management plan.

The final public hearing on the plan begins at 5:15 p.m. at the City/County Building in Bismarck.

If city commissioners accept the plan, separate financing decisions would be made, city staff said.

Robert Verke, a Bismarck resident, protested the financing options in a letter to the editor. He said when contacted by phone that he doesn't want "additional taxes imposed on me for something five miles north of me."

The growth plan was approved March 26 by the Bismarck Planning and Zoning Commission.

Its purpose is to update the city's 2003 growth plan and serve as a guide for orderly growth through 2040. City Planning Manager Kim Lee said the city could nearly double from 61,300 now to 110,500 in 2040. Most urban, denser growth is expected to move to the east and northeast near the city, she said.

Bill Troe of SRF Consulting said that the city can guide growth by managing where arterial and collector roads get built. Developers tend to build their roads according to the need of their projects, he said. Roads for developments are often built in a fragmented manner, not as a wider plan, he said, and arterial and connector roads might not be built until a particular area is filled with buildings.

Troe said the city may have to choose funding options to pay for a portion of the arterial and connector roads. The city wants to guide growth, not react to it, he said.

He identified as funding options:

  • Increasing the city's 1 cent sales tax.
  • Increasing property taxes through a small mill levy increase.
  • Creating a street utility fee.
  • Negotiating bigger road impact fees with developers.

An adjusted fuel tax revenue option also was questioned by Planning Commissioner Mark Armstrong during the meeting. Troe said all types of funding options were considered by staff and committees, but some were more viable than others.

Troe said the city would not pay for all of the road work and there were other funding options, including federal money.

City Commissioner Parrell Grossman said the finance options identified in the growth plan are only examples that the consultant gave. They are not automatically added if the growth plan is accepted, he said.

A new sales tax proposal must go to a vote of the people, Grossman said. Commissioners could not just increase it, City Finance Director Sheila Hillman said.

"These are options presented by the consultant on what other communities and states have done," Grossman said.

"If the city commission accepts the report, it is not saying it will finalize these options," he said. "We are a ways off from making these decisions. We will have to take a hard look at these costs."

Grossman said the commission may have to consider what funding policy works best to address new roads, infrastructure and utilities. Commissioners will consider if just a few or the whole community benefits in deciding how road and infrastructure are financed, he said.

Hillman said the funding proposals mentioned in the growth management plan are only options for the city commission to consider.

"We would have to go through a process to do that if we were to increase property taxes beyond their growth," she said.

Citizens must be notified by mail for the budgeting process that raising the property taxes is being proposed so they have a chance to testify in a public hearing.

Hillman said the commission has veered away from raising property tax mill levies since the 1980s and relied on property value increases for its needed revenue instead.

She explained that if the city commission accepts the growth management plan, deciding the finance plan involves a separate commission action. Like the Downtown Bismarck SubArea plan, she said the city would have to decide how to prioritize and pay for the proposed projects if it accepts the growth plan. She added that the city has yet to discuss the funding options listed in the growth management plan.

City Attorney Charlie Whitman said the formula for giving out state fuel taxes for road improvements is decided by the Legislature. Future gas tax funding changes would have to be proposed to the Legislature, he said.

Phased growth

Jennifer McNeil Dhadwal of URS, a co-consultant in drafting the plan, said the plan encourages a phased growth instead of "leapfrog" development. It suggests that development through 2025 occur in the areas closest to town in the city limits of the extraterritorial area, she said. Further out in the extraterritiorial boundaries of the city, Phase II and III would urge developers to wait longer to build.

Dhadwal said rural landowners would be allowed to keep their properties rural residential and set aside a portion of land for future urban uses — a transitional build-through acreage system. She said landowners would still have the right to use their property as they choose, as zoning allows.

Lee said unlike ghost platting, the build-through acreage system planners do not anticipate that residential rural lots would become densely developed in the future. Property owners still have the right to stay rural or subdivide properties, she said.

The growth plan favors better planning around natural environmental features like waterways and scenic rugged properties, Dhadwal said. The growth plan includes a land use plan, phasing in growth and management controls, consultants said.

For more information about the plan, visit

Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or