State Legislature Considers Funds
BISMARCK – With North Dakota’s general fund projected to increase around two billion dollars, the State Legislature has received billions of dollars in appropriation requests. Some of those funds are being considered for the City of Minot.
On many people’s minds is flood control. Senate Bill 2020 includes $74,500,000 appropriated for the Mouse River Flood Control Project. Minot Mayor Tom Ross recently spoke on this bill at the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Education and Environment in Bismarck, saying it would save Minot taxpayers over $50 million.
“With the construction companies we have in Minot right now, we’re ready,” Ross told the subcommittee. “I can tell you with full confidence that the local dollars will be there for our share.”
David Ashley, chairman of the Souris River Joint Board said the final appropriation would take place in the 2031-33 biennium, and give the city the opportunity to complete the project by 2035.
“That would be, in so many respects, tremendous,” said Ashley.
No action has been taken on this bill.
On the topic of Minot’s newest high school, House Bill 1185 added “unanticipated construction inflation” to the list of reasons a project is eligible for a loan or grant from the coal development trust fund of up to $60 million. Minot North High School would then be eligible for funds due to unanticipated inflation costs of construction.
In November of 2021, Minot residents voted on the new high school with an 84% yes vote. HB1185 adds that the unanticipated inflation must be from a voter-approved bond issue passed after July 2021 and before January 2023. The grants given would be a maximum of $5 million. The bill was heard last week in the House Education committee.
“You can imagine when the voters pass a tax on themselves for a bill that’s $100 million what the inflationary reaction could be since the time of the vote until it’s actually time to pay the bill,” said the sponsor of bill, Rep. Scott Louser, R-Dis. 5, Minot. “In Minot in particular, we had an opportunity for the first time since the late 1960s to pass a bond to construct, or in this case modify, a building that was going to create a new high school in Minot.”
Louser told the committee that Minot voters were given exact numbers on the ballot of how much the modifications would cost, which included Minot North and renovations to Minot High School Magic City and Central campuses. However, when the Minot Public School Board received bids, those bids were higher than the bond issued approved by Minot voters. Louser said this affected other school districts across the state, as the superintendents for Minot, Rugby, and Mandan Public Schools testified on the bill.
The Republican Chairman of District 5 in Minot, Travis Zablotney, submitted a testimony in opposition to HB1185.
“Anyone with their eyes open could see inflation was coming long before this project was estimated and sent to the voters,” Zablotney wrote. “There should have been adequate contingency included in the budget and bond request. In my opinion the Minot Public School board was in a hurry to rush this to the voters and failed miserably in their budgeting process and bond request. The Minot Public School Board knows that taxpayers in Minot are weary and will not support additional spending. They should now lie in the bed they created, take responsibility and figure it out, and not look to the rest of the state for a bail out.”
The House Education committee has not yet given a recommendation on HB1185.
Related, the Senate defeated SB2144 last week that would require repair and maintenance funds to be noted on a ballot for school bond elections. The Dakotan spoke with the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mark Weber, R-Dis. 22, Casselton.
“Oftentimes when you have a school bond issue on the ballot, there’s a lot of confusion, there’s some questions as to what are your plans for repair and maintenance,” said Weber. “There seems to be a gray area. This bill was an attempt to try and make it more clear for the voter. The ballot would have to show what the school’s intentions are for the future repair and maintenance. We found there was a lot of difficulty in the language to try to make that work. I think if you were to ask a person on Main Street, every voter would say yeah, that’s a good concept.”
On the topic of Minot’s Trinity Hospital current downtown building, SB2342 asks for one-time funding of up to $2.25 million for a planning and designing grant to improve a downtown hospital building to address workforce development concerns. The organization that gets the grant must provide a 25% match. The second portion of the bill provides for a workforce hospital grant program with funding of up to $20 million for an organization committed to improving a vacated downtown hospital.
The bill was heard last week in the Senate Workforce Development committee.
“This happens to be Trinity Hospital in Minot,” said the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Dis. 5, Minot, to the committee. “We are about 99% ready to open the new hospital. So we have this one-hundred-year-old building downtown, and the question of the day is what do you do with a hundred-year old hospital? So we think we need some money to plan, and to decide, how do you fix that? Do you use it for development, do you use it for childcare, do you use it for nursing school, do you tear it down?”
Zablotney also spoke against the bill, saying he doesn’t understand why the taxpayers of North Dakota should front the costs of a private property concern.
“I will likely be accused of doing a great disservice to my community, but I’m a bigger picture thinker,” said Zablotney. “I think this is very self-serving, this request. I do know one thing, that I would have the vote of the majority people on my side. It’s a classic example of the government picking winners and losers.”
Trinity Hospital recently rejected a MAGIC Fund Loan offer from the City of Minot of $3 million at 4% interest.
The Senate Workforce Development committee gave the bill a 6-0 Do Not Pass recommendation.