By David Luessen
Forum News Service
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Valley City residents will vote in November on whether to extend an existing half-cent sales tax that would help fund a permanent flood protection plan for the city.
However, the City Commission will decide Aug. 19 whether to add an item to the ballot that would use a portion of the funds to build a $16 million wellness center for the city.
Jennifer Feist, executive director of the Valley Development Group and director of development for the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corp., pitched the idea to the commission Tuesday. The VDG proposes using 11 percent of the money generated from the half-cent tax to fund construction of the Valley City Health, Physical Education and Wellness Center, with the other 89 percent going to the flood plan.
Feist said that if the commission decides to tag the center’s construction costs to the tax, the ballot measure would be worded to let people vote for extending the tax to cover both projects, or just flood protection.
“It will be stated on the ballot so it’s very clear, so the public knows exactly what they’re voting on; that rests in the hands of the city,” she said.
City Commissioner Madeline Luke said she expects the vote for flood protection to pass, but wasn’t sure how the wellness center vote would go.
“I think people want flood protection; it’s a negotiation now whether it’s going to be just flood protection or whether the wellness center is going to be a part of that, and I think there’s a difference of opinion on how to proceed,” Luke said. “My thought is that if you want flood protection you vote for flood protection, if you want a wellness center you vote for a wellness center. You don’t do the two together.”
Valley City voters approved the sales tax to fund construction of the Hi-Liner Activity Center at Valley City High School, which opened in 2004. The tax is set to expire June 30, 2023, or when the bond and loan for the building have been paid off, which is expected to happen in late 2017. Feist said the commission may move to rescind the sunset clause.
The move to extend Valley City’s half-cent sales tax stems from the city’s permanent flood protection plan that began its formulation in 2011. That year saw the city’s second-worst flood in history, with the worst flood occurring two years earlier.
The first phase of the plan included buying out 46 riverside properties for the installation of permanent levees. The buyout’s total cost was $4.5 million, with $1.4 million coming directly from the city and the rest from the State Water Commission.
Earlier this year, the SWC awarded the city $12.5 million in an 80-20 percent cost share for the construction of flood walls, with $2.5 million of that being a loan to be repaid by extending the sales tax if voters approve.
The VDG will hold a public information meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hi-Liner Activity Center for residents to pose questions on the proposed wellness center. Feist said the center’s focus will be on families and the growing elderly population in Valley City.
“We’ve got limited facilities and that’s not meeting the needs of the population, and our Park and Rec Department, their programs are growing,” she said. “It would be handicapped accessible and it would be user friendly.”
The facility would need to be on VCSU property because of a $1 million grant the VDG is seeking from the North Dakota University System’s Challenge Fund.
To qualify for the grant, the physical education and physical sciences courses at VCSU would be located at the wellness center. Feist said the center also would house cardiac rehab and physical therapy programs, a full gym with a walking track, a swimming pool and hot tub area, as well as a child-watch area for short-term day care needs.
If the wellness center is added to the November ballot and passes, Feist said she expected construction to begin next spring or summer.