Failed West Fargo vote haunts Fargodome special election

West Fargo school administrators continue to wrestle with the reasons behind the abysmally low voter turnout for the district’s $147 million bonding special election that went down in flames. Despite the usual public relations effort, less than 4,000 residents-under 7 percent of residents-bothered to vote in the September special election. The result was a split outcome with just eleven more “no” votes in opposition to the measure, falling far short of the 60 percent needed for approval.

Now flummoxed school officials have undertaken a survey of residents, Inforum says, in hopes of finding out what went wrong.

“We had a bond, and it failed. Now, it is looking at where do we go from there,” school board member Jon Erickson said. “We’re really looking at how we get feedback in general, whether it was good or bad.”

Erickson said the school board is trying to understand how it might move forward as the district continues to grow, and the survey may reveal how to better communicate with voters in the future.

“How do we reach the voters?” he said. ” We certainly spent plenty of time trying to reach out to them in many different ways. It really didn’t seem to have the effect we were hoping for.”

The stunning outcome in West Fargo casts a shadow over the prospects for another special election next door in Fargo involving a similar amount of public funding and the same 60 percent bar for approval. On December 5, residents will go to the polls to vote on whether to spend $140 million to renovate the Fargodome. Supporters aren’t taking any chances, according to Inforum.

Following an “awful low” turnout in West Fargo’s special election [campaign co-chair Deb] Mathern said that their citizen-led group is amping up their efforts in the next two months to ensure many people get out to vote this December.

“Our goal is to educate the voters so that they hear and understand the importance of preserving and updating this asset for our city,” Mathern said.

They surveyed the community last month and reached that 60% in-favor threshold, she added, with some undecided voters. She didn’t have exact numbers available on Friday afternoon.

The plan calls for updating the 30-year old Fargodome at a cost of $90 million, while also adding a conference center for an additional $50 million. The advocacy group Fargodome Reimagined estimates the current economic impact of the venue at $24 million to $42 million, depending on the year. But they have to sell the public on a combination sales tax and lodging tax to pay for it.

This is a one-issue ballot asking for the Home Rule Charter to be amended to establish a one-quarter of one percent sales tax for 20 years along with a 3% lodging tax. Economic studies show approximately 55% of FARGODOME users are out-of-town guests. The logic of using sales tax and lodging tax for a public venue is that it allows financial participation by out-of-area users of the venue rather than the cost burden being assumed by city residents alone.

Some supporters questioned the timing of a December special election and the potential effect of cold weather on turnout. And that was before the low voter participation in West Fargo. Whether Fargo voters turn out in greater numbers than in West Fargo on a measure that could have been on the general election ballot next week will be known in just over a month.