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Fargo Mayor addresses 2020 highlights in State of the City Address

Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney discussed topics including the downtown riots last May, potential flooding last March and many new project completed and coming to the area.
Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 11:19 AM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - This morning, Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney presented his 2021 State of the City to members of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

As Mayor Mahoney discussed the positives, they are as followed:

In March, the region was faced with potential flooding. Thousands of volunteers produced 232,000 sandbags in only four days.

MATBUS began fare-free operations in April of this year, understanding the financial strain and challenges faced by its passengers. Operating without fares will continue into 2021.

Following a riot in May, several small businesses in our downtown neighborhood were vandalized and damaged. The same flood-fighting resolved and the support was fully displayed the next morning. The community had downtown cleaned up before lunch time.

The criticality of race relations in Fargo was brought to the forefront in 2020. In addition to existing and excellent relationships, 2020 introduced new grassroots for community organizers who seek to improve our metro. This led to opportunities for dialogue and understanding.

Through the donation of private funds, our Lady Liberty made her triumphant return to greet Main Avenue travelers in 2020. The new Statue of Liberty has improved security features to ensure she continues to shine as a beacon of our community for years to come.

Advanced illumination, as part of the overall City Hall project, was installed and implemented on the exterior of the Commission Chambers in 2020. The new dynamic lights help signify holidays and special events, while modernizing the heart of our City.

Several members of the Fargo Fire Department joined other departments from North Dakota fighting raging wildfires in Oregon. Three Fargo firefighters volunteered to spend several weeks in the west, sometimes working 20 hour days to protect critical infrastructure.

The Department of Planning and Development engaged with the public to learn more about advancing our Core Neighborhoods Plan. This comprehensive plan will guide development in our City’s central neighborhoods--which truly are the backbone of Fargo.

Fargo’s Downtown Neighborhood will see a fusion of infrastructure and public art as the Downtown Fargo mega-water tower is constructed next year. Not only will the tower replace Fargo’s three oldest water towers, providing more efficiency and saving taxpayer money, it will also feature public art that was developed based on public input.

The Human Relations Commission will be expanded in 2021, with two additional members offering guidance. This marks a continued commitment to ensuring the diverse and eclectic Fargo community is represented, heard and provided an important seat at the table to make real and substantive change.

This year also saw the launch of our Community Land Trust.

Fargo has the only landfill in the region which collects, recycles and sells the natural gas produced within the landfill. More than 30,000 residential homes worth of greenhouse gasses are removed from the atmosphere each year because of this. It also provides a steady source of revenue, helping to keep solid waste costs down.

The Inspections Department works diligently every day to ensure our homes and neighborhoods are safe to live in.

Fargo’s newest Chief of Police, David Zibolski, was selected utilizing a highly transparent and public process. We understand the importance of listening to residents, and included several members of the public on the selection committee. The public also provided more than a hundred questions to consider for the hiring process, further ensuring our new chief is representative of the people we serve.

COVID-19 was a hindrance to many things in 2020, including the annual spring Cleanup Week. Twelve hundred tons of garbage were safely disposed of, while protecting workers and the public from the virus.

The City of Fargo, Cass County and Clay County unveiled a new citizen alerting app – Cass Clay Alerts. The new app boasts new features, which allow officials to reach more people. It can even be used to alert residents when vehicles need to be removed from streets due to weather events.

The Fargo Police Department also made it easier for residents to anonymously report crimes, thanks to the implementation of the new Tip 4-1-1 Line. This new service allows residents to report suspicious behavior, even if they wish to not be identified.

The Snow Emergency Ordinance has been updated. Response times to clear neighborhood streets of snow were not as fast as the City wanted, due in large part to vehicles parked on the streets during major snow events hampering snow plow operators’ ability to clear lanes. The new ordinance helps clear the streets of parked cars and, in turn, of snow. The City will implement Cass Clay Alerts in order to give those parked on the streets plenty of advanced notice and provide adequate time to move.

Work continued in 2020 to continue the Land Development Code Diagnostic. This comprehensive look at our L-D-C will help guide improvement in the ways we develop the City and help create an even more intelligent, efficient blueprint for development.

2021 will see the creation and implementation of Fargo’s first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This position will be responsible for assessing and developing diversity and inclusivity initiatives in the City, ensuring Fargo is a welcoming and diverse community where opinions of people with all backgrounds are heard and taken into account.

The new year will also mark a monumental display of the City’s commitment to transparency and accountability as the Police Department will roll out new state-of-the-art body cameras. These cameras will provide additional clarity and evidence during police interactions, helping to protect both our police officers and the people they serve every day.

The Fargo Moorhead Area Flood Diversion Project construction continues as we march towards permanent flood protection for the metro. The City understands sandbags are not a permanent protection and stands by being ready to flood-proof the area. In order to successfully implement permanent flood protection, more than 200 properties in high-risk flood-prone areas needed to be purchased. Today, less than 10 in-town properties remain, and we couldn’t be more grateful for this progress.

Fargo’s Main Avenue completed its two-year makeover in 2020, modifying its look with additional trees, accessible parking and a counter flow lane allowing turns onto northbound University Drive and easier access to the Downtown neighborhood. The project was completed more than a month early!

The City further solidified its commitment to providing plentiful parking with the opening of the Mercantile Ramp in 2020. The downtown ramp is the fourth within a few blocks of Downtown to provide free weekend and nighttime parking. The new ramp maximizes efficiency by providing nearly 370 parking stalls, while taking up the same amount of room as a surface lot would have.

Public safety is another top priority, and a major step was taken in 2020 to facilitate a safe Fargo. The land for an eighth Fargo Fire Department station along 31st Street and 64th Avenue South was purchased with a goal of beginning construction very soon. Station number eight would maintain low insurance rates for hundreds of homeowners and provide even faster response times.

Accomplishing big things often requires maximizing efficiency, which is precisely what the Engineering Department and Water Department is doing by combining a water pumping station in the Belmont neighborhood with permanent flood protection. This sort of “two-for-one” approach saves taxpayer money, while accomplishing both goals and receiving 65% of necessary funding through a FEMA grant.

A similar “two-for-one” approach is being applied to an 80-acre recreational lake and retention pond planned for a future development south of 52nd Avenue. Lake Fargo could save as much as 15 million dollars by eliminating multiple lift stations from separate holding ponds. It will be managed by the Fargo Park District, which will develop recreation programming such as kayaking and paddle boating.

While we don’t often think of drought in Fargo, it is historically a very real emergency. Just as the F-M Diversion “flood-proofs” the metro, the Red River Valley Water Supply Project will “drought-proof” Fargo. The massive project is breaking ground this year and will provide a steady supply of water from Lake Ashtabula when the Red River’s and Sheyenne River’s flows ever became too low.

Fargo’s Downtown will see a new mixed-use “gateway” at the corner of Main and Broadway in 2021. The City recently sold a parking lot to developers JLG and F.I. Salter to construct a beautiful facility which will include office space and provide additional downtown housing.

Great things are coming along Fargo’s riverfront area, as a Tax Increment Financing District for the area is in the works. Creation of the TIF District would help provide funding for public improvements and open the door for private development along the Red River.

The Mobile Outreach Program finished another successful year. This Harm Reduction Services-led program provides safe rides and other assistance to individuals experiencing substance-use crises. This program helps free up police officer time and helps people in crisis access the resources they need.

The former Fargo City Commission Chambers was re-fashioned into a state-of-the art public meeting room featuring updated audio and visual equipment for community meetings. The newly-opened Sky Commons provides another great place for people to gather and engage in dialogue.

Ease-of-access for residents and businesses in Fargo is incredibly important, and the City’s new Inspections portal accomplishes that by putting any forms needed by residents or contractors in one accessible location 24 hours a day, as well as providing tracking updates on the permitting process.

Through an unprecedented pandemic, Fargo Cass Public Health not only provided guidance relating to COVID, but continued offering vital clinic services for community members.

The Fargo Water Reclamation Department collaborated with researchers at NDSU to analyze wastewater for traces of COVID-19. The ground-breaking process can be used to determine which neighborhoods may have higher instances of COVID-19 positivity, all without requiring interaction with potentially infected people.

The MATBUS Ground Transportation Center received major upgrades and improvements this year through federal and state grants. The renovation of the facility generates more space for staff, improves the passenger experience and creates safer exit points for buses.

The sanitary landfill now features a residential transfer station, which residents may utilize to dispose of appliances, furniture and other household waste items free of charge. This new service means residents won’t need to wait for Cleanup Week to dispose of large items for free.

With a settlement with Volkswagen, some of the costs for a new hybrid fire truck and electric vehicle chargers will be offset, making sustainability more affordable to install. City Hall will feature multiple electric vehicle chargers to accommodate both hybrid and fully electric cars.

The former downtown Fargo Police Department headquarters along 4th Street was repurposed into a COVID-19 drop-in shelter to provide COVID-positive homeless people with a place to safely quarantine and isolate. This helped mitigate COVID-19 spread while providing security to vulnerable people.

When spring initially rolls around, some pesky potholes are sure to pop up. In the past, streets crews would have to wait for asphalt plants to open up for the season in order to patch those holes. The Public Works Department recently invested in a hot-patch truck insert, which allows crews to patch problematic potholes much earlier in the season.

The City has several distinctions for economic climate and quality-of-life standards in 2020. Fargo was named the best city to start a career and the hottest job market in the entire United States. We garnered several other distinctions throughout the year as well, ranging from being one of the best cities in the US for singles, to being named North Dakota’s best place to live.

Our Regional Water Reclamation Facility is currently undergoing a $120 million expansion to improve capacity, allowing for utility regionalization. The project also includes energy efficient features which will help lower operating costs of the plants, while minimizing its carbon footprint.

Fargo’s Emerging Digital Academy, developed by Emerging Prairie, graduated its first cohort in 2020. This “coding bootcamp” provides the training for people to begin careers in software development. The average graduate doubles their earning potential, while helping fill one of 800 open positions statewide.

Amazon is on its way to Fargo, as North Dakota’s first fulfillment center will have a home in north Fargo. The 1.3 million square-foot center will create 500 full-time jobs with competitive wages this year, and is expected to inject more than $100 million into the economy annually.

The City of Fargo is taking major steps to advance our role as environmental stewards. An energy load profile study is underway across City facilities, which will help identify ways we can lower our emissions and carbon footprint. Just a few examples? LED light conversions are underway in Fargo’s main library and High Pressure Sodium streetlights and street signals are being converted and optimized to lower energy demands.

Fargo’s Downtown has a new shared space for everyone to enjoy, no matter the season! Broadway Square opened in December and includes an urban ice skating rink, a stage for performers and seating for people to enjoy. The plaza will serve as another place for residents to enjoy our beautiful downtown.

The City of Fargo has updated its utility billing software so residents may now utilize one-step secure payments, request a service call online and access real-time statements. The software provides improved functionality and embraces a 21st century approach to billing.

The Fargo City Commission made a commitment in 2020 to help fund a regional workforce academy to provide the education and training necessary to continue fostering a talented workforce equipped for the challenges of modern careers.

Affordable housing continues to be a top priority in Fargo, with several projects in queue this year to help address the need. The Fargo City Commission approved property tax exemptions and provided land to assist with the creation of new affordable housing units in Fargo, including more than 80 units in Downtown Fargo and 80 specifically for senior citizens.

While 2020 has certainly been a challenge, Fargo is fortunate to have a resilient and robust economy. Permit values in 2020 were more than $700 million, nearly double what we saw in 2019 and the most since 2015, when the $500 million Sanford Medical Center was constructed.

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