ND budget better than expected

Richland County Commissioner Chairman Tim Campbell addresses a crowd at the township officer meeting held Tuesday, March 30.

A township officers meeting was held at the Law Enforcement Center in Wahpeton Tuesday, March 30.

County officials and state legislators updated township officers and attendees on the state of the county including the diversion settlement, road work, legislation and more.

 Legislative update from Rep. Kathy Skroch (R-26)

North Dakota State Rep. Kathy Skroch (R-26) said the state’s budget is looking better than initially anticipated.

“At first we had many concerns about funding the state of North Dakota, with COVID dollars coming that will help us balance and stabilize the budget. Rather than having to make cuts, we’re able to fund pretty well most of the programs,” Skroch said.

She said the legislature is still waiting to know the method by which the COVID relief dollars will be distributed.

“A lot of funding is being provided to help with education, K-12, so that’s encouraging as well,” she said.

With regards to her committee work, Skroch said the agricultural committee has completed their committee work and is now waiting on any conference committees.

Skroch has introduced two bills in her human services committee. The first bill, HB 1354, relates to the commission on guardianship

The second bill, HB 1181, relates to courtroom mental fitness and reducing the amount of time people with mental illness spend in jail.

“Speeding that up so we can avoid time in county jails, for example, for people suffering from mental illness and behavioral health issues and that bill is still moving forward,” she said.

She continued that the bill looks to be in good shape.

“It’s been a challenging legislative session in many ways. We are finally at the point where we can take our masks off in the assembly but we still are to wear masks in the corridors and cafeteria,” she said.

County update from Richland County Commissioner Tim Campbell

Richland County Commissioner Tim Campbell updated the audience on events that have happened in the county over the past several months.

As of March 30, the Richland County Health Department has administered 2,287 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 1,399 second doses of the vaccine. A total of approximately 7,400 vaccines have been administered in Richland County from all agencies administering the vaccine.

“Right now, we’re approximately getting allocated about 70 doses per week and the vaccination is available for anyone 18 years of age and older,” Campbell said.

There have been no reported COVID-19 cases for Richland County Jail inmates, Campbell said.

The jail can accommodate 33 individuals, but with COVID-19 capacity was reduced and the jail averages about 16.4 inmates.

Campbell also spoke briefly on the new human services zone.

In the last year, Ransom, Sargent and Richland were combined into the RSR Human Service Zone, Campbell said.

“That’s been an ongoing process … but I think it’s giving real good benefits to everybody who’s more rural,” Campbell said.

JPA update from Richland County Commissioner Nathan Berseth

Richland County Commissioner Nathan Berseth updated attendees on the diversion authority settlement that occurred between Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority and the Joint Powers Authority (JPA).

The settlement came from the construction of a dam in Cass County, that while operational, could cause flooding in Richland and Wilkin counties. A full story on the settlement and how settlement funds will be utilized can be found here: https://www.wahpetondailynews.com/news_monitor/news/richland-positioning-itself-for-growth/article_24a93ce0-8b38-11eb-bb97-7f1a1cd3f117.html.

Richland and Wilkin counties are set to receive $75 million from the settlement. Richland County will receive 60 percent of the settlement and Wilkin County 40 percent.

“There’s $35 million that will be coming into the county coffer with the next two to three weeks,” Berseth said.

After the initial $35 million payment, payments of $1.8 million will be distributed yearly for approximately 33 years upon significant completion of the dam or after eight years, whichever comes first.

Those payments have a compounding interest of 2 percent, meaning the total received will be approximately $96 million.

The funds will be used to build more housing in Richland County and expand the tax base.

Since 1995, Richland County’s population has decreased roughly 10 percent, Berseth said.

“We have to look at this as a county-wide economic development to increase our tax base. That’s what brought us to the housing,” Berseth said.

The JPA also secured a number of concessions in the settle including debris removal, cemetery maintenance, compensation for farmers affected by flooding and more.

Christine, North Dakota, will receive a ring dike that will be maintained by the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority.

“But that alone is above and beyond the $75 million. I’m not an engineer, but I’m convinced that will be $50 million-plus,” Berseth said.

Highway department update from Richland County Engineer Jesse Sedler

Richland County Engineer Jesse Sedler said the Hankinson highway department shop is in the process of being torn down following a fire that totaled the building on Jan. 18.

“Hopefully in the next month that will be down. We’re in the process of plans and specs for a new shop to rebuild in Hankinson,” Sedler said.

The county highway department has a number of projects as construction season comes into focus.

“As some of you may know we drain tiled County Road 10 two years ago, we’re going to continue that … we’re going to do about 25 miles for the next four years,” Sedler said.

Tiling is also going to begin on County Road 25, Highway 13 to Mantador, and County Road 15 from Highway 13 to Hankinson.

Chip sealing will begin on County Road One south of Highway 11 down to 1E.

Sedler also encouraged townships to join the LoadPass Permit System. LoadPass allows townships to have control over heavy truckloads utilizing township roadways and receive a small fee from permits purchased to travel over their roadways.

“If you wanted to join up with that I would recommend it. It’s pretty painless,” Sedler said.

Sedler said counties would likely be paid quarterly in fees generated from the service.

Sedler also touched on the road train legislation.

“They’re looking to run 130-foot vehicles down our roads on non-federal roads … they would be on state, county and local roads. We’re strongly opposed to that,” Sedler said.

He encouraged attendees to contact their legislators.

Water resource board update from Arv Burvee

Richland County Water Resources District Board Member Arv Burvee highlighted pieces of legislation the water board has been keeping an eye on.

This winter the water resource board has been spending quite a bit of time dealing with the legislature and testifying before a couple of different committees,” Burvee said.

The first bill is Senate Bill 2208, which was designed to revamp over 100 years of North Dakota water law, Burvee said.

“The committee got so much pushback, the testimony was just overwhelming against it, that instead of dropping it and letting it just die, they chose to set up a committee to study it and come back with recommendations,” Burvee said.

House Bill 1437, which is a revamp of the drain tile law, is a bill the water board supports, Burvee said.

“We think that it’s a real workable bill and if passed it looks very promising, it’s going to make the application process of tile much simpler and easier. Our water resource board like tile, we wish the entire county was tiled,” Burvee said.

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