Four new resolutions, below, are followed by previously passed resolutions that continue to stand and will make up the legislative initiative of the counties in the upcoming Session.
2016-01 Stepping Up Initiative. Nationally, the percentage of individuals with serious mental illnesses in county jails is three to six times higher than for the general population and almost three-quarters of adults with serious mental illnesses in jails have co-occurring substance use disorders. The recent legislative study of corrections in North Dakota has concluded that our county jails face similar issues. Clearly, without the appropriate treatment and services, people with mental illnesses continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals and their families. Through the Stepping Up Initiative, the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation are encouraging public, private and nonprofit partners to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. A number of North Dakota counties have begun to address this serious issue, and this Association supports those efforts and encourages all counties to resolve to utilize the comprehensive resources available through Stepping Up to:
2016-02. Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN) 20/20. SIRN 20/20 is a statewide initiative to study and recommend a consensus solution for delivering, integrating, and supporting mission critical interoperable radios systems and training for first responders and the public safety community. North Dakota’s first responders have continued to provide a safe environment for the State; however, the current approach to how we utilize land mobile radios has its limits. In order to continually improve service to the public and effectively work together in delivering fire, rescue, law enforcement and aid across the State, we need to transition to an interoperable solution that ensures responders have the means to assist each other and the people of North Dakota regardless of their state, local, or tribal affiliation. This Association supports efforts to design, implement, and appropriately fund a statewide integrated and interoperable mission critical land mobile radio (LMR) network solution assisting public safety personnel in their ability to communicate effectively and reliably while carrying out their duties.
2016-03. Traffic Fines. North Dakota’s fine structure for the violation of our traffic laws is one of the lowest in the nation. This Association supports uniform, statewide traffic fines that are reasonable, but provide greater deterrence to speeding, reckless and unsafe driving practices, as well as more aggressive assignment of points on the offenders’ driver’s licenses. Specifically, this association urges the Legislature to enact penalties under 39-08-23 and 39-08-24 for texting while driving of at least a $300 fine and two points.
2016-04. Collaborative Effort to Update and Improve the Assessment Process. Counties in North Dakota are responsible for local assessment of industrial properties and reporting of those tax assessments to the State of North Dakota, including the determination of the difference between real and personal property when conducting local assessments. Few counties have the training or knowledge to conduct tax assessments of industrial properties on its own and typically contract with out-of-state experts. Although undervalued industrial property will shift the tax burden to other property classes, county government currently has no recourse for appeal of North Dakota State Board of Equalization decisions to reduce counties’ local assessments of industrial properties. The North Dakota County Commissioners Association and the North Dakota Association of Counties are committed to working with Vision West ND, the State Tax Department, and other interested stakeholders to update the rules regarding real and personal property, improve training opportunities for local county tax officials, and seek an appeal process for counties after the State Board of Tax Equalization.
2015-01. Highway Construction and State Funding. This Association and the counties it represents, acknowledge the superb efforts of the State of North Dakota and its elected and appointed officials in securing and providing funding for critical highway construction and maintenance. The additional one-time funding allocations of the Legislature have been extremely helpful, however the timing and inconsistent availability of these one-time funds has limited the impact. Dedicated, consistent funding for county transportation projects will allow state and local officials to be better stewards of these funds, help develop better long range plans for transportation improvements, and more effectively tackle the transportation needs addressed in the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute study of North Dakota's county, township and tribal roads and bridges. This Association strongly supports the Legislative efforts to dedicate consistent revenue sources for both state and local roads.
2015-02. Federal Highway Funding. Counties play a critical role in the nation’s transportation system. Nationally, counties own a substantial portion of our nation’s roads and bridges, and are involved with over a third of the transit systems and airports in the United States that connect citizens, communities and businesses. In North Dakota, counties own 71% of all bridges, 22% of which are rated as structurally deficient. This Association believes that counties should be recognized as major owners of transportation infrastructure and be provided levels of funding and authority that adequately reflect their role in the nation’s transportation system. We therefore support using Highway Trust Fund revenue for a total public transportation program (roadways and transit) and that Congress and the Administration should retain the existing budget treatment of the highway and mass transit accounts within the Highway Trust Fund. In addition, we support increasing and indexing dedicated federal revenues to meet current and future highway and transit funding needs, provided all additional revenue resulting from such an increase is dedicated for highway, bridge and transit programs.
2014-02. State Aid Distribution Fund. This Association maintains its strong support for an equitable share of statewide taxes distributed to local government through the State Aid Distribution Fund. The revisions in 1999 and 2003 of the Fund’s formula were important steps in achieving this equitable share – steps that are also consistent with the goal of reducing the pressure to raise property taxes in order to meet local government service needs. The increasing revenues in this Fund are possibly the most direct form of property tax relief possible. We strongly support the Governor and Legislature in keeping this Legislative promise to local government; allowing this fund to grow with our state’s economy and maintaining the greatest possible discretion on the use of these funds with the local governing boards. We specifically urge that state aid be raised from a set base of 0.435 of 1% to 0.6 of 1%, with the increase being dedicated to roads, streets and bridges.
2015-03. Human Service Financing. County officials applaud the Legislative action to begin the shift of county social service costs from the property tax to statewide funding sources. County commissions have made concerted efforts to reflect the 2016 shift of grant costs in their CY2016 budgets and mill levies. County property taxes however still support over $40 million per year in state and federally mandated human service costs; therefore this Association is firmly in support of the interim Property Taxation Committee’s goal of 100% state funding after CY2017. Counties remain dedicated to the local delivery of human services, but recognize that a state reimbursement of social service costs is both feasible and desirable for our State.
2015-04. Justice Reinvestment & Behavioral Health. The North Dakota Legislature has wisely chosen to study the issues of justice reinvestment and behavioral health services during the current interim. These important and somewhat overlapping issues are critical to county government. The rapidly increasing jail and prison populations are an indication of both increasing crime, and the lack of accessible and effective alternative programing for the many individuals whose justice system involvement is directly related to underlying addiction and mental health issues. This Association supports the interim studies underway and strongly supports recommendations that will improve services while reducing the need for incarceration in county facilities.
2015-05. Election Equipment. Federal and state legislation moved North Dakota, a number of years ago, in the direction of uniform statewide election administration and voting equipment. Federal Help America Vote Act (HAV) funding was made available for all counties to implement the identical election hardware and software over a four-year period. This equipment however is approaching the end of its useful life, and our State is facing the need for complete system replacement. Counties look to the office of the Secretary of State, the Office of the Governor, and legislative leadership to begin planning now for this replacement process to ensure that appropriate stakeholders can participate in election system selection and that State policy makers can adequately fund the significant costs without a substantial property tax burden.
2015-06. Waters of the United States. On June 29, 2015, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published their definition of Waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act. By expanding federal oversight to include county-owned and maintained roadside ditches, bridges, flood control channels, drainage conveyances and wastewater and storm water systems, the impact to counties will be significant. We support the North Dakota Attorney General in his suit to halt the implementation of this rule, and further urge Congress to restart the “waters of the U.S.” rule-making process, allowing for significant local government involvement.
2015-08. Tobacco Taxation. North Dakota currently has one of the very lowest tobacco tax rates in the nation. Research, neighboring state policy changes, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control “best practices” all demonstrate that a significant increase in the tax on tobacco has a profound effect on smoking rates – particularly among teenagers – and a long-term positive impact on health costs paid by individuals and governments. County public health units have participated with many other groups to reduce smoking through the passage of a statewide smoke free law, the development of effective cessation services, and public education. The largest gap in our State’s framework to reduce smoking is the currently insignificant tax rate. North Dakota taxes a single pack of cigarettes at 44¢, while taxes in17 states exceed $2/pack. The national average is $1.60/pack and only four tobacco-producing states have a lower tax rate than North Dakota. While the primary benefit of a significantly higher tobacco tax would be the resulting reduction in smoking and health care costs, the revenue generated by an increased tobacco tax could be devoted to public health, behavioral health, veteran’s health, and other much needed services within our State. This Association therefore supports both citizen and legislative efforts to significantly increase our State’s tobacco tax rate and the dedication of the increased revenue to the enhancement of needed health delivery.
2015-09. Right-of-Way Grass & Weed Mowing. North Dakota Century Code requires the landowners and operators with land adjoining regularly traveled county and township highways to cut all weeds and grasses along those highways as prescribed by the board of county commissioners. State law further directs the county or township to charge the actual expense of cutting, if the adjacent landowner or operator fails to comply with state law and the county or township must cause the weeds and grasses to be cut. The statutory limitation to the “actual expense” provides little incentive for some landowners and operators to fulfill their statutory responsibilities. This Association therefore urges the Legislature to amend 63-05-03 to allow the board of county commissioners or township supervisors of each county to annually establish a uniform fee to be charged to landowners and operators that fail to cut weeds and grasses as required by law.
2014-09. Adult Protective Services. The Governor and the 2013 Legislature enhanced the State’s efforts to address the protection of our state’s vulnerable citizens through the current Department of Human Services budget. These efforts have identified that the need is greater than the funding provided, and therefore we urge the Governor and North Dakota Legislature to adequately fund statewide Adult Protective Services and related infrastructure in 2015.
2014-04. Guardianship/Public Administrator Funding. State law allows for court appointment of guardians and public administrators to assist vulnerable individuals in managing their financial affairs. Historically, the public administrator “system” has varied widely, is considered insufficient for the need and relies on property tax support. County government has urged the Legislature to address this issue, along with other civil indigent representation in child custody, mental health, and sex offender cases. The Governor and the 2013 Legislature recognized the weaknesses in the current structure and funding model, and counties are very appreciative of the initial steps taken to provide greater uniformity, oversight, and consistent state funding. As only 65% of the necessary funding was appropriated for the current biennium, this Association supports legislative action to fully fund public guardians after this biennium.
2014-07. Construction Bidding Threshold. Several conflicting sections of state law address the bidding threshold for county construction projects. One specific section sets $10,000 as the threshold for county buildings, while the general construction statutes establish $100,000 for all government entities. At this time of robust economic activity, even the $100,000 has proven to too low and likely to increase, rather than decrease, taxpayer costs. This association urges the Legislature to eliminate the statutory conflicts and increase the construction bidding threshold.
2014-11. Traffic Fines. North Dakota’s traffic injuries and fatalities have increased alarmingly in recent years. Coincidentally, North Dakota’s fine structure for the violation of our traffic laws is one of the lowest in the nation. This Association supports uniform, statewide traffic fines that are reasonable, but provide greater deterrence to speeding, reckless and unsafe driving practices, as well as more aggressive assignment of points on the offenders’ driver’s licenses.
2012-07. Truck Regulatory Enforcement. Counties support enforcement of truck regulatory laws and ordinances, as they are concerned about the use, condition, and preservation of roads and highways within their jurisdictions. The current statutory requirement that extraordinary road use fees for unpermitted and overloaded vehicles must be deposited in the State Highway Fund for the sole benefit of state highways hampers local road authority’s ability to operate and effective enforcement program. This Association supports legislation that would dedicate these fees to the repair and maintenance of the road system impacted by the overweight vehicle.