Bismarck School Board Will Address Renaissance Zone Issue Public input is now needed at the Bismarck School Board Meeting on Monday April 18th at 5:1

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Bismarck School Board Will Address Renaissance Zone Issue

Public input is now needed at the Bismarck School Board Meeting on Monday April 18th at 5:15pm at the Hughes Educational Center, the address is 806 South Washington Street.

April 15th, 2016

Yesterday, we alerted you to rumors that special interest groups would try to force the Burleigh County Commission to reconsider their rejection of Bismarck's request to renew the Renaissance Zone program.

This rumor has been mostly dispelled by the release of the Burleigh County Commission's agenda last night where the issue is not even on the agenda. This means the likelihood of a reconsideration is almost zero.

Also making its way to the public is an email from Burleigh County Commissioner Doug Schonert urging interested taxpayers to attend the Bismarck School Board's meeting, also Monday evening:

Shonert RZ Email

The issue of the Renaissance Zone renewal is indeed on the School Board's agenda, which also was not uploaded till late last night.

VIII. New Business
--A.Bismarck Renaissance Zone Authority Request (Attachment)
Background Information: On March 31, 2016, BPS received a letter of request from the city of Bismarck, Community Development Department, regarding the Bismarck Renaissance Zone Authority, asking for support of the extension of the Bismarck Renaissance zone program.
Recommendation: It is recommended the Board review the request for support from the city of Bismarck, Community Development Department, regarding the Bismarck Renaissance Zone Authority and determine a Board position, if it so wishes.

The special interests that want to see the School Board go against the County Commission are waging their public relations war strongly today with the Bismarck Tribune's editorial calling on the State Commerce Department to renew the program despite the long held state policy to require County and School approval.

The county commissioners are apparently concerned about the loss of tax revenue. County commissioner Doug Schonert complained the program never seems to end. Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, expressed concern that the city will expand the zone. Some also are worried the focus on downtown puts the burden on taxpayers in other areas of the city.

Whether Burleigh’s lack of support will doom the program remains uncertain. Rikki Roehrich, who administers the Renaissance Zone program for the Commerce Department, said letters of support from the county and the school district play a big role in the department’s decision. If the school board supports the zone, and it should, it will be a draw of sorts. The Commerce Department should renew the zone for Bismarck. And the city should be reasonable in how it uses the program to ease the concerns of Gawrylow and others.

While the Bismarck Tribune briefly mentions it has benefited from the program, it leaves out the extent that the paper itself has a conflict of interest:

Among the downtown projects that have benefited from the Renaissance Zone are the former Front Page building at 521 E. Main Ave., which was converted to Civic Square, a professional office building; the office building at 217 N. Third St., converted to J.L. Beers; the former hair school at 124 N. Fourth St., converted to Toasted Frog; and the former Wilhelm Motors site at 100 W. Broadway Ave., converted to Broadway Centre. *The Bismarck Tribune expansion project in 2005 was done with Renaissance Zone help.*

An analysis of data from the City of Bismarck shows that Lee Enterprises, the Corporate owner of the Bismarck Tribune, received a $550,000 property tax break and a $1.2 million state income tax break using the Renaissance Zone program.

Tribune RZ

Luckily, to the Tribune's credit, they also published two letters from private citizens on the issue:

Cindy Bosworth wrote:

Until we get some answers on these questions and many more, no more money should be spent on the downtown. Businesses that have been in our city/county for many years before the developers came in and bought up everything are getting pushed out the door. Enough is enough, residents and businesses outside the area need to stand up and start fighting city hall and the state if needed.

Kent Olson thanked the Burleigh County Commission for it's decisions:

As taxpayers, it is rare to be able to offer blanket support to an entire governing body, but the Burleigh County Commission deserves our thanks and appreciation for standing up to the Bismarck City Commission and specifically Mayor Mike Seminary.

On so many issues, the city has been taking advantage of Burleigh County, the Bismarck School District and the Bismarck Park District by making policy decisions that divert money from government services to slush funds and subsidies for the “special” developers and investors in our community.

The fight is now moving on to the Bismarck School Board.

It's time for taxpayers to ask the Bismarck School Board to follow the leadership of the Burleigh County Commission.

Public input is now needed at the Bismarck School Board Meeting on Monday April 18th at 5:15pm at the Hughes Educational Center, the address is 806 South Washington Street.

Give your School Board members the courage to stand up to the City.


Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary Wants State To Change Policies To Over-Rule Burleigh County

April 7th, 2016

Today, the Bismarck Tribune is reporting that Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary intends to exert pressure on the North Dakota Department of Commerce in order to nullify the Burleigh County Commission's pro-taxpayer decision to not renew the City of Bismarck's Renaissance Zone program.

On March 29, the Bismarck City Commission approved extension of the program, but state Commerce Department guidelines require letters of support from the county and the Bismarck School District in submitting the application for state approval. Bismarck’s Renaissance Zone is scheduled to end May 1.


Rikki Roehrich, program administrator for the Renaissance Zone with the state Commerce Department, said Tuesday that the letter of support from the county and the school district weigh heavily into the agency’s decision on whether a program continues.

“It has been a requirement since the program’s inception. It would not be considered a viable extension plan without the letter of support and would automatically be denied,” said Roehrich, adding that this is the first time the issue has come up as not many cities have seen their 15-year Renaissance zones expire.

Despite this fact that it has ALWAYS been a requirement to have the County's support, and that it would be automatically declined, Mayor Mike Seminary says he will put pressure (perhaps undue?) on the state to treat Bismarck differently than it has other cities in the past:

Regardless, the city will proceed with the extension request, according to Mayor Mike Seminary.

“Our interpretation is the city has to reach out to the political subdivisions. We’ll see what the state does,” said Seminary, adding there has been significant property improvements with “hundreds of jobs created and millions of dollars invested in properties” that might not have happened without a Renaissance Zone.

City Commissioner Josh Askvig is backing Mayor Seminary's plan to pressure the state to accept the city's incomplete renewal application:

Commissioner Josh Askvig said he was disappointed by the county’s refusal to support the Renaissance Zone.

“Our plan is to continue to create a vibrant downtown. We’ll finish what we submitted to the state and see what happens,” said Askvig, emphasizing that there are no plans to extend the Renaissance Zone borders.

Commission Askvig's comment about not having any plans to expand the Renaissance Zone defies the facts that the sub-committee he is a member of is already looking to do just that.

In the map below, the blocks outlined in Red are the current blocks in the Renaissance Zone - the blocks outlined in other colors are being considered as part of the expansion (which requires renewal to happen.)

Bismarck RZ

Meanwhile, Commission Parrell Grossman called into KFYR Radio yesterday afternoon to voice his disappointment with the Burleigh County Commission.

Be sure to listen to that audio.

(Note: City Commissioner Steve Marquart did vote against the extension at the city level, and was the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Nancy Guy has not been officially put on the public record since voting in-favor of the renewal.)

It is important that the taxpayers continue to support the Burleigh County Commission with feedback on this issue. They must stand their ground and make sure the state does not change the rules on them. The rule of law, and the existing process must not be altered. There is a reason the state legislature put the Commerce Department in charge of this process. Let's hope everyone operates like usual.

(Below is the original story in case you missed it.)


Burleigh County Action Shifts Property Tax Debate Back To Local Government, Where It Belongs

The state legislature cannot fix property taxes because it does not have the final say in the policies that go into determining property taxes.

April 5th, 2016

Burleigh County Commission

For the last several legislative sessions, there has been a debate over Property Tax Relief and Property, starting in 2009. and in 2010.

Now, as the state is facing it's budget problems, and the debate over what to do about property taxes reheats - the legislature, elected officials, and taxpayers must look at what Bureigh County did as a first step in the process to reforming property taxes locally.

The legislature can throw money at the problem all it wants, but until local governments start addressing their own policy decisions when it comes to tax-giveaways (called "incentives"), tax exemptions, and other tax policies there will be no real reform.

Political Sub Funding

The state legislature for the last 8 years has been bailing out local governments, and enabling these issues to go unaddressed.

With the state's ability to continue these local government bailout programs in the balance now, the time has come for local taxpayers across the state to demand their local governments start to figure out what they can do to minimize the impact of future state spending cuts.

If local governments fail to make these moves, local taxpayers should hold their local government officials responsible for that failure - not the state legislature.

The state legislature must demand that local governments start this process as well.

The Burleigh County Commission has taken the role as Trailblazer in this process - who will follow their leadership and example?


-Dustin Gawrylow, Managing Director

North Dakota Watchdog Network

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