The Grand Forks County Commission held an Administrative Services Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to discuss the potential adoption of a “house rule” charter for Grand Forks County, but at least one commissioner think now might not be the time to move.
The discussion confirmed that the purpose of the move to self-government would be to allow for the introduction of a sales tax to create a new source of revenue for the county.
Home Rule gives authority to counties for municipal affairs instead of state laws. It is basically a local constitution that allows a county or municipality to do anything not specifically prohibited by the state constitution. It gives counties local control to make ordinances and decisions on local needs instead of the decisions of state legislatures. Raising taxes to solve financial problems is a common reason for its implementation, which is the reason cited by county commissioners.
Grand Forks County Administrator Tom Ford listed some “misconceptions” about the domestic diet at the meeting that the county should point out when selling the idea to citizens.
“It was really the Achilles heel the last time the county asked people for a self-reliance charter,” Ford said. “There was a lot of misinformation and misconceptions floating around out there.”
Ford cited a handful of myths, such as citizens losing influence in county government.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Ford said. “The thing is, residents will get more local input, such as the ability of the referendum to postpone local actions, and they’ll just have a bigger voice in the process in county government.”
Another myth he cited was that local autonomy allows local governments to pass new taxes without the consent of residents, which is also not true. It simply allows the county to offer new taxes for residents to vote on. He also said the rule of origin will not change the way property taxes are assessed, which will still rely on state law, or impact cities, townships, school districts, and other entities, due to its scope which only encompasses county government.
The Home Rule was most recently proposed in 2008 for the same reason – to propose a sales tax to pay for the costs of a new jail, in which only 16% of residents voted to approve it.
Commissioner David Engen said he believed the most important part of involving the public was to come before them with facts.
“We also have to sell this thing with facts and bust the myths,” Engen said. “People I’ve spoken to in Northwood and a few other places, they really see the fairness of a sales tax instead of it all being on people who own farmland, people who own their homes in city, tenants who do not pay it and etc. I think logic is on our side, but we have to get the word out.
The city of Grand Forks expects to generate about $10 million a year with a 1% sales tax, and a countywide sales tax would bring in even more revenue. Even a 0.5% sales tax would generate $100 million in additional revenue over the next 20 years.
Commissioner Tom Falck said he believed the time had not yet come to propose home rule.
“In my mind, I think we’re premature to move forward, and some of you probably won’t agree, but I think we could spend $50,000, and we can’t spend it. , in advertising, we can be anywhere we want to be to try to support this, and you’re not going to reach the majority of our voters,” Falck said. “I really think the timing is right, for the public to see how it will help them, is to continue this after the mill tax increase for the correctional facility, because every property owner in our county will receive a tax return with this increase.”