Counties still hope to see infrastructure needs met

$680 million bonding bill heads to governor after larger package fails

By Alexandra Kautzman, NDNAEF

BISMARCK – Living in Tioga, Williams County Commissioner Barry Ramberg is familiar with how bad his county’s roads are. He said the old, unpaved roads make vehicles shake terribly and kick up so much dust it’s becoming a serious health concern. Ramberg said like other infrastructure needs, dust control is a project the county can’t afford.

“The county is where this oil money is created and then it winds up in the Legacy Fund and it’s just sitting there,” Ramberg said. “I’m not for spending money just because we have money to spend but I believe that the oil extraction and oil production taxes should offset oil impacts. We have lots of impact around here that hasn’t been fixed and we could use more funding.”

The $680-million bonding package cleared the Senate last week, but after the Senate had turned aside amendments that would have raised the total to $1.1 billion. It now goes to Gov. Doug Burgum. Introduced by Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, the House majority leader, House Bill 1431 would use the state’s Legacy Fund to make bonding available for infrastructure projects across the state.

Ramberg was disappointed the final bill failed to include dedicated funding for township roads. 

“I think they need to realize where all of this money that they’re spending comes from and appropriate some back accordingly,” Ramberg said. “They wouldn’t have any money to spend if it wasn’t for the people out in the townships.” 

The package includes:

  • $435.5 million for the Fargo diversion project
  • $74.5 million to the resources trust fund
  • $50 million to the infrastructure revolving loan fund
  • $70 million to the highway fund
  • $50 million to North Dakota State University

After the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended against the $1.1-billion package, the full Senate unanimously passed the original $680-million version adopted earlier by the House.

Senator David Rust, R-Tioga, said he is interested in supporting the Fargo diversion project and the Mouse River flood control project, but he hopes to see funding – perhaps through the Resources Trust Fund – for other rural water infrastructure needs. 

And while he wishes new funding could be made available for township roads, Rust said he supports the $50 million earmarked or the NDSU agriculture products development center. “We are an agricultural state and we need to keep agriculture at the forefront of our thinking because it’s what we do and we need to sustain that,” he said.

In written testimony to the Appropriation Committee, Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Shon Hocker urged support for establishment of a regional career academy, which would provide area students career and technical education through dual enrollment programs. That proposed funding also was stripped from the bonding bill. 

Other local officials had pleaded for targeted assistance, including Stanley City Auditor Allyn Sveen, who told the Appropriations Committee he hoped the bill would make the city’s capital improvement project more affordable for residents. The project consists of sewer and street improvements as well as replacing failing infrastructure in historic residential neighborhoods.

Walsh County Commissioner Ernie Barta said maintaining bridges is one of his county’s biggest infrastructure needs. He said Walsh now has just under 500 bridges but closed quite a few in the past five years because they couldn’t afford to replace them all. 

“Any money that can be given our way for roads, bridges, you name it, we could sure use it,” Barta said. “It’s always going to big cities and the counties out west, we never get enough back here.”

Pierce County Commissioner Ashley Berg said there are a lot of projects that would benefit from bonds supported through the Legacy Fund. While the biggest issues are the roads and sewage systems, she said county schools and hospitals also need repairs. Berg said since every county has projects that would benefit from the bonding package, it is important to support infrastructure across the state.

“We all have to work together and help each other so our state can continue to be as wonderful as it is,” Berg said. “That’s the great part of North Dakota, we help our neighbors.”

Legislative leaders have indicated they hope to find other ways to support those local needs.