Bismarck voters will decide Tuesday whether to levy an additional half-cent sales tax to be used to improve eight major arterial roadways, including portions of 43rd Avenue, State Street and Century Avenue.
Two additional measures also will appear on the ballot. If approved, Measure 2 would cap the existing 25-mill property tax buydown at 2019 levels, while Measure 3 would remove language related to redundant, expired and completed projects from section 17 of Bismarck’s Home Rule Charter. The latter also would add language due to changes in state law.
The first two measures are the result of work done by Bismarck's Special Assessment and Infrastructure task forces over a period of two years, according to Bismarck City Administrator Keith Hunke.
If approved, Measure 1 would implement a new half-cent sales tax, to sunset after 10 years, which would be tied to a project list. Selected by the city commission, those roadways include:
• 43rd Avenue/Ash Coulee Drive from Tyler Parkway to 66th Street.
• Centennial Road from Interstate 94 to 43rd Avenue.
• Main Avenue from 26th Street to 66th Street.
• State Street from Calgary Avenue to N.D. Highway 1804/71st Avenue.
• Washington Street from Burleigh Avenue to south Bismarck drainage ditch.
• Century Avenue from Centennial Road to 66th Street.
• Tyler Parkway from Valley Drive to 57th Avenue.
• 57th Avenue from Washington Street to State Street.
“These projects are not prioritized,” Hunke said. “The decision as to what project would be done first, second, third, etc. would be made by the city commission.”
The estimated revenue needed to complete all of the projects is $217 million, according to Hunke. Over the course of 10 years, an additional half-cent sales tax would generate an estimated $77.5 million.
“We can’t get them all done. Again, we wanted to show the need. We wanted to make sure we show the full need of arterial roadways in the community,” Hunke said. “But, of course, if we get additional money from state aid or from any legislative action that might happen this session … all of that could be applied to this effort to address those arterial corridors.”
According to city staff, about $4.5 million in federal funds are allocated annually to the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is then used for projects in Bismarck, Mandan, Lincoln and Burleigh and Morton counties.
Bismarck uses a combination of local and federal dollars to fund road construction and improvements. Special assessments fund local and collector roads, while sales tax revenue matches federally funded arterial roadways.
Hunke said the revenue generated from the additional half-cent sales tax would allow the city to move forward at their own pace and complete roadway projects without being dependent upon federal aid.
“One of the reasons for needing the half-cent sales tax was the fact that federal and state funding has become really unreliable and smaller and smaller and smaller over time, so rather than rely on something that wasn't predictable, we should take care of our own infrastructure ourselves,” said Commissioner Nancy Guy.
“If there's federal or state funding that becomes applicable to those projects, we would certainly use that to get through the list of projects, perhaps, quicker than 10 years,” she added.
In the event the projects are completed sooner than 10 years, the tax would cease to be collected.
Hunke compared the city sales tax of other major North Dakota cities with Bismarck’s, which is currently 1 percent. Mandan’s is 1.75 percent, while Fargo’s and Grand Forks’ is 2 and 2.25 percent, respectively.
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Bismarck voters, in 1992, approved using sales tax revenue to subsidize, or buy down, the equivalent of 25 mills of property taxes.
Hunke explained that a Bismarck homeowner whose house has a market value of $200,000 saved $225 per year in property tax with the 25-mill property tax buydown.
The intent of Measure 2 is to cap the existing 25-mill property tax buydown at 2019 levels.
According to Hunke, the estimated value difference of the cap in 2020 versus 2019 on a residential property valued at $200,000 is $7.25.
The value of 25 mills has grown faster than overall sales tax revenue and now consumes more than 60 percent of all sales tax revenue generated in Bismarck, according to city staff. In 2019, of the $15.5 million in sales tax revenue, about $9.6 million will be used to buy down 25 mills of property tax.
If the 25-mill buydown is not capped at 2019 levels, it is projected that 100 percent of sales tax revenue would be used towards the 25-mill buydown by 2029, eliminating the ability of sales tax revenue to fund infrastructure, among other uses.
“If things move forward with no change, we’re projecting that in about year 2029, the one-cent sales tax value will be consumed by the 25-mill property tax buydown,” Hunke said.
Measure 3’s intent is to remove redundant and expired language, as well as language related to previously approved and completed projects, from section 17 of Bismarck’s Home Rule Charter.
If passed, it also will add language required by, and consistent with, recent changes in state law regarding the streamlined sales tax and will include “remote sales” in tax collection.
“Measure 3 is a city-initiated measure that is … some housekeeping and clean-up work we need to do with our Home Rule Charter,” Hunke said. “Our Home Rule Charter can only be changed by the vote of the citizens, therefore we’re taking advantage of this opportunity on the Nov. 6 election to do that.”
County election campaigns
A number of candidates' names will be on the ballot as they vie for open positions in Burleigh and Morton counties.
• In the Morton County Commission race, to be decided Nov. 6, incumbents Jim Boehm and Andy Zachmeier face challenger Jackie Buckley for two open seats.
• Candidates for Morton County state’s attorney are the eight-term incumbent and an experienced prosecutor, both of whom handled criminal cases from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Morton County State’s Attorney Allen Koppy is seeking a ninth term against Assistant State’s Attorney Gabrielle Goter.
• The race for Morton County sheriff is a contest between the incumbent and a former sheriff. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who is seeking a second four-year term, is being challenged by Dave Shipman, who was sheriff from 2006 to 2014.
• Erin Peck, of Bismarck, is the lone challenger in the Burleigh County recorder race, facing off against her former supervisor, incumbent Debbie Kroshus.
• For the first time since 2010, there will be a contested election for Burleigh County sheriff. Burleigh County Chief Deputy Kelly Leben, who has worked for the sheriff's department for 28 years, is running against Nolan Canright, a former Bismarck Police Department officer.
• Burleigh County voters have a choice of candidates for state’s attorney for the first time in 20 years. Two assistant state’s attorneys are running to succeed retiring five-term incumbent Richard Riha: Julie Lawyer, a prosecutor of 19 years, and Brian Johnson, a relatively new attorney with a background in law enforcement.
• On Tuesday, voters will award Burleigh County Commission seats to three of the following contenders: Dennis Agnew, Mark Armstrong, incumbents Kathleen Jones and Jim Peluso, Steve Schwab and Leo Vetter.
Bismarck Tribune staff contributed to this article.