(2018 ND County Commissioners Association Resolutions are at www.ndcca.org/resolutions)
This Association and the counties it represents, acknowledge the 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 past Legislatures have been extremely helpful; however, the timing and inconsistent availability of these one-time funds have limited their 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 and township roads and bridges. This Association strongly supports the interim efforts to create a permanent funding structure for local infrastructure. We also support the continuing appropriation to the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute to maintain an ongoing local road needs study and the support of an asset management system for improved planning and reporting on infrastructure investments. This Association further supports the expansion of the infrastructure loan program within the Bank of North Dakota to provide an additional tool for maximizing local road funding efforts, and the development of a long-term strategy for addressing motor vehicle taxes to adequately support highway, road and street maintenance.
North Dakota has a long-standing reputation for ethical behavior by candidates for election, donors, lobbyists and interest groups. State law as well as legislative rules provide effective guides for behavior, and the Office of Secretary of State has the enforcement authority to ensure transparency in campaign finance. Nationwide, however, concerns have been raised about this issue; and often these concerns prompt the development of costly and confusing regulatory structures. To avoid this in North Dakota, this Association strongly supports legislative action for the establishment of a bipartisan ethics commission to ensure transparency in legislative and statewide campaigns and the interactions of state officials with donors, lobbyists, and interest groups.
This Association has evaluated the proposed language from Initiated Statutory Measure #3: Pertaining to the Legalization of Marijuana on the November 6, 2018 ballot and has concluded the measure contains:
No regulatory structure
Based on the above, and the fact that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, this Association does not support Measure #3, and urges a No vote in November.
This Association recognizes the critical services that local public health units provide to the citizens of North Dakota. We also acknowledge that it has become increasingly difficult to adequately fund these services with stagnant and decreasing state and federal resources and a growing reliance on property taxes. We urge the Legislature to avoid decreasing, and as possible, increase local health unit funding through an appropriate mix of general fund and tobacco settlement funding to avoid property tax impacts.
North Dakota counties, in cooperation with the Secretary of State, purchased uniform election equipment in 2004 and 2005 through the wise use of federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding. This equipment, however, is at the end of its useful life, making it susceptible to Election Day malfunctions and failure. Additionally, this equipment and associated computer systems need to be upgraded to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities. The Secretary of State maintains approximately $750,000 of the original HAVA funding and has recently received an additional $3 million allocation. As this Association believes the investment in new election equipment and reporting software is critical to ensuring the integrity of the election process and sanctity of each ballot cast, we urge the Secretary of State and the Legislature to dedicate the existing federal election funds along with sufficient state funding to secure replacement equipment and software prior to the 2020 federal election cycle.
North Dakota Century code 24-05-04 requires Counties to competitively bid certain heavy equipment. Counties support the competitive bidding process as it promotes honesty, economy, and above board dealing in the letting of public contracts. However, such competitive bid process does not work in the case of the purchasing of used equipment which is unique and cannot be bid as no alternative exists. Current industry practice is to offer such equipment at public sale to ensure the best price for the owner. The allowance of buying used equipment at public sale protects the taxpayer from not having to purchase substantially higher cost new items but also ensures honest dealings as such public sales are accessible to the public. This Association supports an update to the competitive bidding statute to allow for the purchase of used heavy equipment at public sales.
The appropriate taxation of wind generation facilities has been of considerable debate since the development of this industry in North Dakota. Counties believe it is important that taxation be fair and that tax revenues are sufficient to address the initial and ongoing effects of these facilities within the fire districts, townships, school districts and counties. The 2017 Legislature enacted a long-term plan to transition wind energy taxation to an “in-lieu of tax” structure that is clearly based on power generation and, therefore, linked to facility owner revenue. This Association supports the current taxing structure and urges the Legislature to resist further changes, allowing for its full implementation.
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 in 17 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 local 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.
In an effort to increase transparency in the property tax process, the North Dakota Legislature has made changes impacting timelines and reporting requirements for all property taxing districts. Counties are required to issue estimated tax notices by August 31st which includes preliminary budget data. Counties, and all other taxing entities, depend on the accuracy of centrally assessed properties when computing their budgets. Therefore, it is paramount this information is complete and reported to counties in a timely manner. This Association urges the strengthening of the valuation process for centrally assessed properties so that accurate values are established prior to preliminary budgets being set in order to achieve the greatest level of taxpayer fairness.
NDSU Extension is recognized as providing valuable services for the citizens throughout North Dakota. Extension’s state budget reduction for this biennium has shifted greater costs of professional staff to the local property tax so that services were maintained across the state. County taxpayers already provide significant operating and indirect cost support, as well as 100% of the local support staff salaries and benefits. It is essential that the state-county partnership in funding be returned to a more equitable balance to reduce the impact to our State’s property taxpayers. This Association joins the State Board of Agricultural Research and Extension in its priority that state funding be restored.
This Association recognizes the legislative efforts to reduce property taxes, including controls that have been implemented to limit local levy growth. During the 2017-2018 Legislative Interim, a study of the property tax system revealed that counties are making prudent decisions which are reflected in lower levies in a majority of Counties. As the Legislature looks to further property tax reform, this Association opposes artificial limitations which would increase inequities and diminish the counties’ ability to respond to local needs.
Counties are specified as the unit of government responsible for collecting property taxes for all political subdivisions. Counties are also the unit of government responsible for foreclosing on property in which property taxes have not been collected. Often these taxed foreclosed properties contain conditions such as dilapidated buildings and hazardous material which requires significant expenditures of county funds before the property can be resold. The current statutory structure allows counties to assess these costs back to the original property owner, but such remedy is often inadequate to recover the costs. This Association supports legislative action to develop a statewide fund to help spread the costs for cleanup of these properties.
It is imperative that the State Legislature establish a reasonable, enforceable regulatory and taxation structure for recreational marijuana that contains, at a minimum:
County officials applaud the legislative action that temporarily shifts almost all of county social service costs from the property tax to statewide funding sources. Counties clearly demonstrated the shift of these costs in their budgets and related mill levy reductions. This legislation, however, is only temporary; and the Legislature directed that a study be conducted for legislative review examining the possible redesign of human service delivery. This Association has been supportive of the study, to ensure that the poor and vulnerable population in every county have access to the best human services possible. This Association supports the following as essential components of any plan to redesign the delivery of human services.
North Dakota is one of the remaining 16 states that lack primary enforcement authority for the use of seat belts in motor vehicles. In 2017, our state had 116 traffic fatalities, and of these, 55% involved individuals that were not wearing seatbelts. The largest number of fatal crashes in 2017 occurred on county roads. In North Dakota there are over ten-thousand miles of county roads that counties are ultimately responsible for. Protecting those driving on county roads is an important part of that responsibility. In states that have provided for primary enforcement, seatbelt use has dramatically increased, and as a result, traffic fatalities have decreased. It is anticipated that the North Dakota Legislature will consider a primary seatbelt provision as part of the state’s Vision Zero campaign. This Association supports Vision Zero and primary seatbelt enforcement to reduce fatalities on our roadways.
North Dakota and its counties have a long history of public policy support for family farmers, and this Association recognizes the importance of agriculture to our State’s economy. The statutes supporting agriculture through the property tax exemption for farm residences, however, has become outdated, difficult to administer fairly, and ineffectual for more and more farmers. This Association urges the introduction of legislation to phase out the farm-residence exemption, while preserving it for retired farmers and surviving spouses of retired farmers and maintaining the exemption for all other farm buildings.