Lawmakers seek snow funds for local governments

BISMARCK—North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill to help local governments strained by this year’s snowfall.

Senate Bill 2340 would set aside $19 million to provide emergency snow removal funds to counties, cities and townships.

Of that, $15 million would be provided to counties and cities, using the same formula now used to distribute funds from the highway tax distribution fund.

The $4 million for townships would be distributed the same way, though they would not have to provide matching funds now required under their program.

The assistance proposed under this bill differs from what was offered in 2009, said Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, the prime bill sponsor.

In 2009, there were specific criteria to qualify for state funding. The state provided $7.8 million in assistance that year.

Taylor urged lawmakers to provide assistance statewide this year due to the widespread significant snowfall.

“Even Sen. (Bill) Bowman (of Bowman) who lives down in the banana belt of North Dakota has significant snowfall this year,” Taylor said. “So, I believe just about every county, city and township is dealing with extraordinary costs, and I’d like to see this bill as a vehicle going forward to help us aid those political subdivisions.”

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said he’s heard some townships have pulled snowplows because they’re out of money.

“This comes at a time where many areas of our state have had repeated disasters,” he said. “There are very few political subdivisions with much, if any, money in their emergency funds.”

The North Dakota Association of Counties and North Dakota League of Cities also testified in favor of the bill. No one opposed it.

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, said he’d like to review information on how much money local governments are budgeting for snow removal.

He doesn’t think there will be an appetite among lawmakers to give money out without any criteria.

“There’s got to be some checks and balances,” he said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee assigned a subcommittee to study the bill further.