Gehrig Column: A Candidate's View On The Role Of Local Government

Fargo, we are long overdue for a discussion regarding the role of local government. As a candidate for Fargo City Commission, I would like to initiate that conversation. Starting by looking at Fargo’s budget and in many cases ask, “Is that the job of local government?”

Those of us who enjoy downtown have, at one time or another, found it difficult to find parking. In response, our city commission has spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars exploring the idea of building publically owned parking structures. These structures will cost tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. The reasoning behind this proposal is more parking means more business downtown, which of course equals higher revenues for both business and city. Sounds great, but is this the role of local government? I say it is not the job of the taxpayer to ensure private businesses have enough parking. Just imagine, would we as taxpayers volunteer to foot the bill for local restaurants’ parking on 32nd avenue or super markets’ parking on University? Of course not.  Further, if additional parking downtown automatically meant more revenue, why haven’t the business owners rallied together and built these structures? Fact is the city is gambling millions of your dollars on something that is not a function of local government. But this is not the only questionable endeavor costing the taxpayers millions.

Courts Plus is a publically owned workout facility in south Fargo with close to 3,000 patrons. But is it the job of local government to subsidize your workout? I say no for a few very important reasons. First, there is no shortage of good and affordable gyms in Fargo without the city providing one. Second, the city is using our tax dollars to compete directly with our neighbors, the owners of these local gyms. Even if you could forgive the first two points, Courts Plus lost nearly $200,000 last year and is currently more than 3.15 million dollars in debt. It is hard to contend, as a small business owner, against a city run gym with seemingly limitless taxpayer funds for updates and upgrades that doesn’t have to worry about making a profit.

This final example shows how far away we as a city have gotten from prioritizing our spending. Our commission voted unanimously to create the Public Art Task Force which will use tax dollars to buy art, and to hire a consultant to accomplish that goal. Most people agree that art adds value to a community, especially a community with as many great local artists as Fargo. This isn’t an argument against local art. Rather, this is a conversation about who should pay for art. I argue that brining art to the masses is best accomplished through charities, organizations, private donors, and businesses. Additionally, it is not the job of local government to tell the people what is or is not art. On a positive note, there are things we can do as a community and local government to support art such as organizing volunteers, networking, and promoting art in the park. These things cost little to nothing to the tax payer, while still spreading awareness. I say leave art where it belongs, in the hands of the people.

We should focus tax dollars on the many needs of our city. Fargo has aging infrastructure, a budget that has ballooned by 96% in a decade, and we are still threatened by flooding. It is time for responsible spending, prioritization, and transparent leadership to take the place of wild spending and the ever expanding role of local government.

This is what I stand for as a candidate, and I hope you will support me this June.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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