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Legislators may provide more tax money to counties

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The Dickinson Press
Legislators may provide more tax money to counties
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Vicky Steiner, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, predicts that a “watershed legislative session” is coming for western North Dakota.

Steiner spoke at the Elks Lodge in Dickinson on Monday night, meeting with members of the Southwest Association of Counties.

Steiner, a Republican representing District 37 in the North Dakota House of Representatives, said that recent funding meetings with state legislators, planning for next year’s legislative session, have been “extremely positive.”

The Southwest Association of Counties is comprised of county commissioners from Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McKenzie, Slope and Stark counties.

In the midst of the Bakken oil boom, the association provides a forum to address collective concerns region-wide. During Monday’s meeting, commissioners expressed fears about competition that will ensue between counties as the boom goes forward.

Steiner said legislators are seriously considering divvying up state oil and gas extraction and production taxes 60-40 in the next biennium, from 2015 to 2017. Sixty percent would go to counties, while 40 percent would go back to the state, she said.

This would roughly double what counties receive now for priorities like road improvements, child care subsidies and emergency services, Steiner said.

North Dakota currently taxes 11.5 percent of the gross value of all oil produced.

A new formula would be necessary to determine how cities and counties would receive Energy Impact Grant funding if state legislators decided on a 60-40 allocation, she said.

“How much money do you have for counties that are on the fringe? How much does Hettinger County need? No hard and fast numbers yet, but we’re getting there,” Steiner said.

Commissioners happily greeted Steiner’s dispatches from legislative talks, but stressed ways to provide more money to counties now.

Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart said funding needs aren’t his county’s only problems. Infrastructure resources are becoming increasingly scarce.

“There’s going to come a day when we’ll need to compete against Stark County, against Dunn County, against McKenzie County for gravel,” Dukart said.

McKenzie County Commissioner Roger Chinn said that prisons in Watford City, Dickinson and other western North Dakota cities are filling up too quickly.

“We’re gonna end up going to (the prison in) Rugby if this doesn’t let up,” Chinn said. “You can’t explain what’s happening unless you witness it. That’s the only way to say it. With that said, I don’t think the 60-40 (tax allocation) would be out of line.”

Sherry Adams, executive officer of Dickinson-based Southwestern District Health, used Monday’s meeting to describe her difficulties in securing Energy Impact Grant funds.

She said her office’s lab facilities are outdated, stretching back to the 1940s. Adams said her request for funds to improve the lab were denied earlier this month.

Soon, Adams said, inadequate facilities may become a public health crisis as still more people move to the region.

“We’re going to see some tremendous things with increased diseases,” Adams said.

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