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Dickinson senator expects emergency services funding bill to pass

A bill up for debate in the North Dakota Legislature could offer more funding to emergency services in areas most impacted by the state's oil production.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-District 37, of Dickinson, who was one of the senators who introduced House Bill 1358, which he expects to pass and allocate approximately $1.1 billion dollars for oil counties

"The issue, at this point, is dividing it up to all of the entities," Wardner said.

Some of the entities in the Oil Patch that will be eligible for funding if the bill passes include: counties, cities, hub cities, school districts, hub city school districts, emergency services, fire districts, townships, county roads, airports and long-term care.

"It will assist the oil country in dealing with the impacts of the oil and gas industry," Wardner said. "The $1.1 billion for oil country, plus $620 million for state highways in oil country, plus $200 million in water funding in oil country, plus property tax relief, will total approximately $2.2 billion for oil country."

The Dunn County Commission is waiting to see what happens with the legislation before it moves forward with a request from Gene Sickler, fire chief for the Dickinson Rural Fire Department, who asked the county if it could provide the fire department with some extra funding.

"We're not so much expanding, but we would like to get rid of some old stuff," Sickler said. "Some of the things we do have coming in to the area that makes us feel like we do need this extra money is the jet service that is coming to Dickinson and with the refinery coming in."

Sickler explained that the additional funding would assist the fire department with updating of equipment, such as the purchase of a $375,000 pumper.

Dickinson Rural Fire Department provides fire and rescue to Stark and Dunn counties and surrounding areas, as well as dive rescue throughout southwest North Dakota.

Commissioner Daryl Dukart said House Bill 1358 -- a major funding bill -- is currently moving its way through the state Legislature before the session ends.

HB 1358 would include an addition to allow an emergency medical service and fire protection funding committee to grant funding assistance to oil-producing counties, emergency medical service and fire protection districts.

The funding would require counties to submit an application and the committee would be required to develop policies for granting awards.

Dukart said the bill is still alive in the Legislature.

"It has been torn apart and pieces of it are now coming back together," he said. "Hopefully, there is going to be some additional money out of it that will come to the counties. I would say we should put this on the table, and we will wait until the end of the session to see what happens with the bill."

Commissioner Reinhardt Hauck agreed with Dukart, adding that he thought the commission would likely agree to grant some funding to the Dickinson Rural Fire Department, but the amount they would agree to give would be dependent on how HB 1358 makes it through the Legislature.