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Committee rejects bills to delay new N.D. governor's residence

BISMARCK -- Attempts to delay construction of a new North Dakota governor's residence fell short Tuesday as a committee deciding which bills to address during the Legislature's special session this week rejected two bills aimed at derailing the $...

071616.N.BND_.GOVERNORSRESIDENCE.JPG
A rendering of the planned North Dakota governor's residence.

BISMARCK - Attempts to delay construction of a new North Dakota governor's residence fell short Tuesday as a committee deciding which bills to address during the Legislature's special session this week rejected two bills aimed at derailing the $5 million project.

The House Delayed Bills Committee voted 4-1 to reject a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo.

The bill would have stripped the authority and $4 million appropriation provided by lawmakers in 2015 to build the residence. It also would have allowed the nonprofit raising $1 million in private donations for the project to refund any of the more than $500,000 in donations collected so far if requested by the donor.

Kasper, who sponsored the original bill in 2015 for the new residence, said that with the state's current budget situation and state agencies being asked to tighten their belts, "I just don't think it's the right message to send at this point in time to the people of North Dakota."

He also raised concerns that proposals from contractors came in more than $800,000 over the $5 million budget. Facility Management Director John Boyle said that figure is down to about $600,000 now as construction manager-at-risk JE Dunn Construction Co. negotiates to bring proposals in line with the project estimate.

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"Until it gets down to $5 million, there is no project," Boyle said.

Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton, also submitted a bill that would have postponed construction of the residence until May 2017 and used about $2 million in Capitol Building Trust Fund money set aside for other projects on the Capitol grounds to free up general fund dollars to balance the budget.

Under state law, the trust fund money can only be used for Capitol grounds projects. Kelsh suggested the $2 million go to the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon, which is "in a real bind" from the 4.05 percent budget cuts to state agencies in February.

He said the current 56-year-old residence is still practical and he doesn't believe reports of mold in the basement, calling it "phantom mold."

"I think there's a lot of good years in that (residence)," he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he wants to keep the special session focused on fixing the $309.5 million budget shortfall projected by the end of the biennium on June 30, 2017.

"If we open the door, I think there's all kinds of ideas that would come forward," he said.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, supported Kelsh's bill, saying it's tied to the budget.

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Supporters of building a new residence have said the current 10,000-square-foot, ranch-style home has problems ranging from security and mold to a lack of handicapped accessibility and would cost up to $3 million to repair and upgrade.

Carlson, a contractor, said he believes it's "worthy of the wrecking ball," adding, "I wouldn't live in that."

"It's time for a new house that's actually representative of what we have for the state," he said.

Kelsh's bill was rejected 3-2 along party lines, with Carlson, Rep. Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown, and Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo, voting not to advance it. Mock was the lone vote in favor of Kasper's bill.

Boyle said construction on the 13,766-square-foot residence has been delayed about a month and will likely begin in September.

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