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Tax supporting med school may to statewide vote

BISMARCK -- North Dakota voters could determine whether or not to keep a statewide property tax that helps fund the University of North Dakota Medical School.

If House Concurrent Resolution 3007 is passed by the Legislature, voters would decide the mill levy's fate during the 2014 general election. A "yes" vote would end the levy, which provided about $2.5 million for the medical school in 2012.

The resolution's sponsor, Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo, told the House Judiciary Committee he has no problems with the medical school, he just wants to put the question before North Dakota voters at a time when taxpayers are calling on the Legislature to provide more property tax relief.

If passed by the voters, the medical school would have to ask the Legislature for an additional $2.5 million a year, or about $5 million every biennium, during the normal budgeting process.

Joshua Wynne, vice president of health affairs at UND and dean of the School of Health Sciences, projects the mill levy to provide $5.5 million in the upcoming biennium and $6 million for the 2015-17 biennium.

"The medical school is highly dependent on state financial support to carry out its major responsibility in helping the state meet its health delivery needs," he said.

The school receives about $24 million from the state, or about 29.6 percent of it's operating budget. Meanwhile, 18 percent of the budget comes from tuition, 25 percent from federal grants and contracts and 25 percent from the two family practice centers in the state.

He said more than half of primary care doctors practicing in the state graduated from UND or did residency training in the state.

Most graduate with $162,000 of debt, which Wynne said would be higher if it didn't have all the support from the state. Wynne said removing the mill levy could deter potential students from applying to the school.

Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, said the $2.5 million may not seem like a lot of money, but it is.

"I don't want this to be a punishment for students," she said about a possible increase in tuition.

But while the state is looking at property tax relief, she hasn't received any calls about the levy in her 20 years in the Legislature, and doesn't see the need to remove it.

"If there was an outpouring of concern by constituents, of course we would seriously consider it," she said.

No committee action has been taken.

All resolutions have a Feb. 26 deadline to be voted out of committee.