2020-01. Transportation Funding. This Association, and the counties it represents, recognizes the support and commitment of the state for consistent funding, dedicated to local government, including Operation Prairie Dog (OPD), for critical infrastructure maintenance and improvements. However, the funding sources available to counties remain inadequate to meet the infrastructure needs identified in the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute study. This Association supports the exploration of additional funding sources, including a modest motor fuel tax increase to be used exclusively for transportation, as well as advancing the priority of the OPD fund, to ensure the sustainability of road funding in the face of rising costs, and the reduction of local levies.
2020-02. Legacy Fund. The Legacy Fund is an excellent mechanism to ensure wise management of the state’s oil and gas wealth, and the earnings could be used to guarantee long term stability for the services delivered through the state and its political subdivisions. This Association supports careful examination of dedicating Legacy Fund earnings to include state and local infrastructure investments, and the investment of the principal as loans for the improvement of local government infrastructure in North Dakota.
2020-03. Prison Population Management. The 65th Legislative Assembly mandated the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) create a prison population management plan to prioritize inmate admissions based on available space in the state system. DOCR began delaying the intake of female inmates in the spring of 2019, forcing counties to maintain state-sentenced inmates in county jails - shifting the housing and medical costs of those inmates to county property taxpayers. In addition, DOCR closed and further restricted admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, again shifting state-sentenced inmates to county facilities. Therefore, this Association supports legislative changes and the funding necessary to remove state-sentenced inmates from county jails upon sentencing of the District Court. County facilities may enter into a contract with DOCR at their daily rate if space is needed to prevent shifting their housing and medical costs to property taxpayers.
2020-04. Jail Standards. The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) has the authority to set standards for county jails. These standards, however, are changed and adopted without significant input and consideration from jail administrators and county commissioners who ultimately must appropriate the funds to respond to the changes. The annual inspections of county jail facilities and the corrective actions required by DOCR are viewed by counties as a conflict with DOCR’s use of county jails as an extension of the state prison system through their prison prioritization plan. County government therefore requests greater involvement in establishing jail standards and a recognition of the budgetary timeline and budget constraints in achieving those standards. In addition, we urge greater technical assistance and support in meeting those standards. Counties further request the development of a process by statute or rule to contest jail inspection findings.
2020-05. Water Management and Transportation Infrastructure. North Dakota water management laws are important for improving land productivity of our state and in balancing the property interests of both upstream and downstream landowners. However, current water statutes contain uncertain and conflicting division of authority and fiscal responsibilities. This Association supports statutory changes seeking to clarify roles and responsibilities of the respective political subdivisions and align the decision-making with the fiscal responsibilities.
2020-06. Federal Permitting of Road Projects. Federal efforts to streamline and accelerate the necessary permits for local road construction have been greatly appreciated. These efforts, however, have fallen short of truly meeting the needs of county road authorities; and we urge the federal executive and legislative branches of government to strengthen these efforts to reduce the cost of road construction delays.
2020-07. Wetland Mitigation. Currently, counties are often limited in their options for securing wetland mitigation acres for road construction projects. The use of private non-profit agencies has become increasingly costly and seldom benefits local taxpayers. This Association urges the development of more options to work through local landowners to meet wetland mitigation requirements.
2020-08. County Road Levies. This Association recognizes how the current mill levy authority for roads and bridges severely restricts counties’ ability to fund local transportation needs, as most counties will suffer a loss in dedicated road funding in 2024 when two existing road and bridge levies expire. Counties have also been impacted by a significant loss of other revenue, including highway distribution funds. In addition, a formula approved by legislators in 2019 to provide permanent transportation funding to counties did not come to fruition. Therefore, this Association urges the restoration of county road and bridge levy authority to provide adequate funding for these budgetary needs.
2020-9. Pre-trial Jailed Inmates Health Insurance Coverage. The Social Security Act, Sec. 1905(a)(A) prohibits the use of federal funds and services, such as Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare and Medicaid, for medical care provided to inmates of a public institution. However, federal law does not distinguish between convicted inmates and pre-trial inmates which are the responsibility of the county jail system. Denying federal health benefits to pre-adjudicated inmates results in poorer health outcomes for the inmate and places a significant financial burden on the county. This association supports State and Federal action to allow for federal benefits to continue to those inmates awaiting the outcome of their underlying criminal case.
2020-10. Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN). The Legislature authorized the funding for the entirety of the SIRN project, which includes $40 million of state funds. The remainder of the $206 million cost will be paid for by revenues from a local 9-1-1 tax, counties, cities, and other first responder agencies. This Association realizes the local financial commitment to this project and requests greater clarity on the project, understanding of the timeline and breakout of costs associated. Additionally, past experiences with upgraded radio projects has created gaps in coverage specifically in rural areas. This Association requests at least a 90% coverage guarantee in all counties before such a system can be fully implemented. This Association also encourages additional state support for the purchase of radio units and long-term maintenance of the system to avoid shifting those costs to the local governments.
2020-11. Onsite Wastewater Systems. Improper installation of onsite wastewater systems is a health threat to all of North Dakota’s citizens and natural water resources. Over the years a patchwork of regulation has resulted in various standards leading to frustration of regulators, installers, and landowners. This Association supports legislation moving responsibility for uniform statewide minimum standards and installer licensing to a single state agency provided with adequate resources to fulfill the responsibilities. Further this Association supports the development and adoption of updated statewide onsite waste-water treatment standards and for uniform statewide educational requirements for licensed installers. However, this Association believes that responsibility for local licensure and inspections remain with the local public health unit and the fees supporting that activity be retained locally.
2020-12. Water Resource District Responsibility. We believe legal assessment drains provide crucial drainage relief for North Dakota farmers; provide outlets for ag and tile drainage; and protect local, county, and state road infrastructure from damages due to sustained saturation and uncontrolled drainage. We support the responsibility of water resource districts to construct, maintain, and improve legal assessment drains for the benefit of the agricultural economy in North Dakota; for the benefit of road authorities throughout the state; and for the benefit of North Dakota landowners and taxpayers.
2020-13. Construction Bidding Threshold. Several conflicting sections of state law address the bidding threshold for county construction projects. Allowing similar thresholds for required bids, advertising requirements, would provide consistency and efficiency in the ease of business operations. With continued high demand on our transportation system, the $100,000 threshold has proven to be too low and likely to increase, rather than decrease, taxpayer costs. This association urges the Legislature to eliminate the statutory conflicts and increase the road and bridge construction bidding thresholds.
2019-02. Social Services Redesign. North Dakota counties recognize the Legislature’s outstanding commitment to social services redesign and remain supportive of changes that improve service, retain local access, and provide full state funding. It is recognized that necessary adjustments to the enabling legislation will be identified as the counties and the state work through this two-year transition process. County officials must be full participants in this identification process, and we strongly urge that serious attention be given to the definition of direct and indirect costs and that legislative and administrative action be taken to ensure that additional costs are not shifted to the property tax.
2019-05. Behavioral Health. Lack of behavioral health and chemical dependency treatment programs or access to transportation to existing programs, places a significant burden on county services. Federal and state policies have made county jails the de facto mental health and chemical dependency treatment facility for people who cannot access appropriate community-based treatment and services. This Association encourages expanding availability of the Free Through Recovery program to pre-sentenced and county jail sentenced inmates. In addition, this Association supports NACo’s Stepping Up initiative and the continued development of local treatment programs that use grant funds from the state and federal government.