North Dakota offers job, internship webfair

BISMARCK–Job seekers can explore nearly 120 internships and job opportunities with more than 20 North Dakota companies through the state’s latest online job fair. 

WebFair ND is underway now through Oct. 31. 

Coordinated by the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the online career fair is popular with businesses, project coordinator Adele Sigl said in a news release. 

“It is a low-cost avenue for recruitment that doesn’t involve the travel and expense of traditional career fairs,” Sigl said.

Services provided to businesses that participate include: 

 *   A virtual “booth” that showcases their current openings and provides information about who they are and what they do.

 *   Marketing of WebFair ND to job seekers (both in- and out-of-state) and North Dakota college students.

 *   Post-event tracking report of website and booth-specific visits.

Commerce began coordinating these events in 2008. This is the fifth WebFair ND that Commerce has sponsored.

State approves tax exemptions for eastern N.D. businesses

BISMARCK – Three eastern North Dakota businesses planning new projects and expansions should receive five-year tax breaks, state officials decided Monday.

Ideal Aerosmith of Grand Forks, Somahlution of Fargo and Phoenix International of Fargo applied to the state for five-year, 100 percent income tax exemptions for new or expanded business projects.

Phoenix International is looking to build a new 90,000-square-foot facility to help provide adequate space for product test equipment, engineers and manufacturing lines. The budget for the project is $22 million.

“Today we are constrained, space constrained, so that’s the reason for the new facility, and our growth is enough that we will continue to utilize the buildings that we have,” Kyle Oetker of Phoenix International told state officials.

The company engineers and manufactures electrical components designed for harsh environments for original equipment manufacturers. The new facility would allow the company to grow its product test capabilities and expand into the power electronics market, its state application said.

“Power electronics are those electronics that are used in hybrid-type vehicles,” Oetker said. “Our role is harsh, rugged environments, so we’re trying to make electronics to hybridize construction equipment, tractors, combines, off-road type vehicles.”

Phoenix International hopes to add 56 jobs by 2017 as a result of this expansion and requested a tax break worth an estimated $666,073. The company also applied for a property tax exemption with the city of Fargo.

Ideal Aerosmith develops and manufactures test solutions for several industries, including aerospace, marine, oil exploration and automotive. These test solutions are typically used during product development and for functionality verification of high-tech equipment, its state application said.

The company plans to add 20 jobs by 2014 and requested a tax break worth an estimated $63,454.

Somahlution is a biotechnology company developing products for transplant medicine. The technology is being developed and the products readied for testing. The company hopes to begin selling products in 2013, its state application said.

The company plans to add seven employees by 2015 and requested a tax break worth an estimated $12,635.

The State Board of Equalization – which includes the governor, tax commissioner and state treasurer – unanimously approved the three requests.

North Dakota economy is still roaring

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s economy continues to soar and bucks the national trend of lackluster consumer spending, the state’s tax commissioner said today.

During April, May, and June, retail sales grew to $4.5 billion, driving a combined growth of over $1 billion for all 15 industry sectors in total taxable sales and purchases compared to the same months in 2010. 

“North Dakota experienced a remarkable second quarter for taxable sales and purchases,” Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said in a statement. “Even with the onset of statewide historic flooding during the second quarter, North Dakota’s economy continued to grow and consumer confidence remained strong, bucking the national trend of lackluster consumer spending.”

Twelve of the 15 major sectors reported gains when compared to the same time one year ago, a news release from the Tax Department said.

The wholesale trade sector grew by 51.1 percent, representing the largest dollar increase of $410 million. The financial, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector reported the largest percentage of growth of the major sectors, rising by 116.4 percent when compared to the second quarter of 2010, the release said. 

Other sectors showing gains include: transportation and warehousing, 116.1 percent; mining and oil extraction, 83.1 percent; construction, 31.1 percent; utilities, 23.5 percent; manufacturing, 23.5 percent; accommodation and food services, 11 percent; retail trade, 9 percent; and professional, scientific, technical and management services, 4 percent. 

Education, health care, and social services declined 9.7 percent; information industries, 6.3 percent; and arts, entertainment, and recreation, 4.3 percent.

Of the 50 largest cities, the biggest percentage increases for the second quarter include Stanley, 114.1 percent; Tioga, 106.1 percent; Williston, 75.2 percent; Crosby, 68.1 percent; and Watford City, 66.9 percent, the release said.

Of the 50 largest cities, only two reported second quarter decreases: Cavalier, down 18.3 percent; and Larimore, 11.2 percent.

Counties with the highest percentage increases were Sioux, up 410.8 percent; Mountrail, 109.2 percent; Burke, 88.7 percent; Williams, 81.6 percent; and McKenzie, 64.3 percent.

Counties with the biggest percentage decreases were Steele, down 10.7 percent, and Pembina, down 2 percent.

Fong said third and fourth quarter reports will more accurately reflect the effect of statewide flooding and the impact of excessive moisture on the state agriculture industry.

Find the full report here.

State treasurer wants to see more efficiency in state finances

BISMARCK—North Dakota government agencies have $3 million worth of outstanding state checks, and the state treasurer wants to see this number decline.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt recently gave state lawmakers an update on the matter.

Overall, 52 state agencies have more than 10,600 outstanding checks between 90 days and 3 years old that total nearly $3.1 million. (See the agency breakdown here)

Outstanding checks mean the money has not been received by the proper recipient, the recipient did not cash the check or state money has not been properly returned to the appropriate funds, Schmidt said. There is not a breakdown of how many checks fall into the various categories.

The state Tax Department has the largest amount of outstanding checks—5,416 worth $2.1 million—followed by the Department of Human Services with 2,168 checks worth about $351,000. The North Dakota Legislature is at the bottom of the list with two $25 checks outstanding.

Many of the outstanding checks in the Tax Department are due to people not cashing them, said Nathan Bergman, supervisor of the individual income tax section.

“It’s surprising how many people will get checks and just not cash them,” he said.

He estimated a few hundred checks come back as undeliverable. The department has a system in place to try to get money to the rightful owner in these cases, Bergman said.

Department staff search for new addresses and phone numbers and put a note on the resident’s account so—if that person calls the department—there’s a record that a check is due. If the resident files another tax return, the department checks the file for additional contact information.

“We try to do what we can do,” he said.

There is not a way for the public to search online to see if they have an outstanding state check that they lost, never got or haven’t cashed in the past three years. However, Schmidt said a new tax distribution outstanding check system can help state agencies work on their outstanding check lists.

This includes researching the validity of the payment, contacting the recipient to find out why the check remains outstanding, and determining whether a check should be voided and reissued.

The closer to the date of issue the checks are worked, the more likely a resolution is found, Schmidt said. This means more efficient government since less tracking is necessary, and money belonging to the state can be put back to proper use, she said.

A review of the 2011 outstanding check transfer report found the opportunity for increased efficiencies in state check practices is “striking,” Schmidt said. Issuing multiple checks to the same person, letting checks sit and not aggregating amounts for reissue have a dramatic effect on the efficiency of the state, she said.

After three years, remaining outstanding checks are turned over to the state’s Unclaimed Property Division. Next month, the state will turn over nearly 2,300 outstanding checks worth $435,000.

Schmidt, who pushed for the law requiring her office to report the status of outstanding state checks to legislators, said her office is continuing to work to improve the state’s check processes.

“Efficiency. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said. “It saves the taxpayers’ dollars.”

North Dakota Legacy Fund starts growing

BISMARCK–A bank account for North Dakota’s future got a $34 million boost today.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt announced she will deposit $34,311,019.74 into the Legacy Fund.  This is the first monthly deposit into the Legacy Fund since its creation by initiated measure in 2010, a news release said. 

Under Article X, Section 26 of the North Dakota Constitution, 30 percent of all state oil revenue derived from oil and gas production and extraction after June 30, 2011, will be deposited into the Legacy Fund.  No principal or earnings of the fund may be spent until after June 30, 2017. Principal expenditures from the Legacy Fund after 2017 require a two-thirds passing vote of the Legislature. 

The Legacy Fund will be invested by the State Investment Board. 

State treasurers gather in Bismarck for annual conference

BISMARCK–State treasurers from across the nation are coming here for a conference that will include discussions of the Bank of North Dakota, state pensions and the economic outlook. 

North Dakota State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt will host the 2011 National Association of State Treasurers conference Saturday through Wednesday. Attendees include 26 state treasurers, their staff  members and  numerous corporate affiliate members, a news release said.

Conference speakers include:

- David Mulford, vice chairman, Credit Suisse International and former ambassador to India

- Narayana Kocherlakota,  president and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

- Rich Karlgaard, editor-in-chief and publisher, Forbes Magazine

- Eric Hardmeyer, president, Bank of North Dakota 

A complete conference agenda can be found at: www.nast.org/2011annual/agenda.htm

N.D. budget director receives national honor

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s budget director received the “Outstanding CPA in State Government” award at a national conference this week.

Pam Sharp was honored for contributing significantly “to increased efficiency and effectiveness of government organizations and to the growth and enhancement of the CPA profession,” according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Sharp, director of the Office of Management and Budget, built a foundation of fiscal strength that enabled the state’s bond ratings to improve, a news release said.

“Her focus in controlling state spending and debt, providing tax relief, building reserves and better managing government was critical to North Dakota’s solid financial performance during the recent economic downturn,” the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants said in the release.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Sharp deserves the honor.

“Her extensive knowledge of state finances and policy are a tremendous asset in our daily commitment to prudent fiscal management,” he said in a statement. 

Sharp has served as the state’s budget director since 2003 and has worked in the office for nearly 20 years. She has also worked for the state treasurer’s office, the state auditor and the Tax Department.

Sharp is a native of Watford City, N.D.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

In North Dakota, if three siblings, A, B and C, are tenants in common of a section of land, can A and B sell their “shares” to person C without tax penalty to person C? Or does the entire section have to be sold, then repurchased by person C? And in the second case, what tax liability would C incur?

Roberta Lucio

Enderlin

 

Thanks for writing! I contacted Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. Here’s what he said:

“The questions you are posing do not simply impact North Dakota income tax. There is also a federal income tax component to be considered. Given the vagueness of the scenario, my suggestion to you is that a more fruitful discussion on this particular topic could be had with a real estate attorney and/or a tax professional.

“In North Dakota, in situations where property is owned by two or more persons – considered as tenants in common – each tenant owns an undivided share of the property. The shares do not have to be equal.

“If we assume that this is a very straightforward transaction, absent any restriction agreed upon by the tenants, each tenant may sell, exchange, give away or otherwise deal with his or her respective interest in the property (e.g., mortgage it) just like any other property interest.

“Given the above, A and B may sell their respective shares of the property to C. Any federal income tax implication, i.e., a gain or loss on the sale, will fall on A and B as the sellers.

“As the buyer, C would not incur any federal income tax consequence simply from purchasing the others’ interests in the property. (C would become the sole owner of the property and would have to deal with any federal income tax implications only at such time as C disposes of the property.)

“As to the last two questions regarding the sale of the entire section of land with the repurchase of it by C, that course shouldn’t be necessary if all three tenants are in agreement on the sale of A’s and B’s respective interests to C.

“There are legal recourses that tenants in common may have in cases where there is not complete agreement, such as a dispute over the sales price (value) of the property interests, one of which may involve a court-ordered sale of the entire property with a distribution of the proceeds among the tenants.

“In this type of situation, the federal income tax implications, if any, for A, B, and/or C would depend on what actually takes place.

“Again, given the nature of the questions, which involve not only federal income tax law implications but also call into play property laws, I believe it may be very productive for you to visit with a real estate attorney and/or tax professional.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

In the Jamestown Sun … The AP had an article on Internet sales and lost tax revenue for the states who are feeling an economic pinch. Amazon and others are mentioned, which raised my eyebrows. Over the years, including this one, I have ordered items from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sears and others.

As I recall, the ONLY time a North Dakota state tax was NOT included (as a line item) was a camera purchase from B & H Photo in New York. The rule, as I understood it, was if they had a physical presence in our state, sales tax was mandatory. This raises my curiosity: was the tax charge a clever revenue enhancement?

Do you know if our state tax commissioner actually receives the tax collected from Internet sales? Does he have a list of companies who do collect it and send to the state?

Robert M. Brown

Jamestown 

Thanks for writing! I contacted Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. Here’s what he said:

“Thank you for your email requesting information about Internet retailers and sales tax collections.

“Your understanding of the rule is correct. Retailers that have a physical presence in North Dakota are required by law to register and collect our sales taxes. Even though Internet sellers that do not have a physical presence in North Dakota are not required to collect our tax, we do have some that do voluntarily register, collect and remit sales taxes to our office.

“The sales tax statutes have confidentiality provisions that prohibit the state Tax Department from disclosing information about sales tax accounts. Because of those provisions, we cannot provide a list of Internet sellers that do or do not collect our taxes.

“Retailers that must collect tax are required to register with our office, and we issue a sales tax permit to all companies that complete the registration process. State laws require retailers to display the permit so customers can verify the retailer is authorized to collect tax. Unfortunately, displaying a permit is not effective for a remote business that operates outside the customer’s home state.

“You do have the right to ask a retailer if they have a valid North Dakota sales tax permit number. Sales tax permit numbers can be verified on our website. To verify a permit, go here.

“If you enter a valid permit number in the search, the response will tell you the number is valid and the name of the registered retailer.

“I’m sorry we cannot be more direct regarding specific retailers. I hope this information is helpful in response to your questions.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

North Dakota Unclaimed Property tries to give back $32M

BISMARCK – Linda Fisher sits in a booth at the North Dakota State Fair each year, trying to give away millions of dollars.

Some approach her cautiously, trying to determine if it’s a sting operation.

But she has legitimate money – $32 million worth that’s built up since 1975, to be exact.

Fisher is administrator of the Unclaimed Property Division of the State Land Department.

Despite the sound of it, the division doesn’t give away land or real estate – just money. And there are more than 61,000 people and businesses with a right to it.

The money comes from a variety of sources: state tax refunds, insurance proceeds, death benefits, uncashed payroll and expense checks, securities and safety deposit boxes.

Rebates that never made it to customers or were never cashed are also piling up. Federal tax refunds do not end up there, however.

Businesses are required to go through their accounting books every year to see what’s outstanding, Fisher said. If they are unable to reach the person owed money, the money needs to be reported to the state where it can be claimed free of charge.

Because the State Fair was canceled this year due to flooding in Minot, Fisher is trying other ways to get the word out about unclaimed money held by the state. She also wants to clear up misconceptions about the agency.

“The unclaimed property list is not a list of people that can’t be found,” she said, adding people are often amazed the division “can’t find” hospitals and well-known people on the list to give them their money.

Rather, the list is just that: a list of people and businesses that have money held by the state. And they need to claim it.

Besides those who are simply unaware, there’s “a list as long as my arm” as to why people don’t claim their money, Fisher said.

About one-third of the claims are for $50 to $100, according to 2007-09 data, the most recent available. Some people don’t bother if their claim is a small amount.

Others think the claim process is too difficult. And some have unusual reasons.

“One guy had $10,000 here, and he called me and he said, ‘I will never claim it. It’s blood money,’ ” Fisher said.

The man’s family claimed the money after he died.

Grand Forks Public Schools typically checks once a year to see if it’s made the unclaimed property list, said business manager Bill Hutchison. The district is in the process of collecting its latest amount of $500, he said.

“I’m glad they do it (the service),” he said. “It works out well.”

AAA North Dakota is among those on Fargo’s list of residents and businesses with unclaimed money. Spokesman Gene LaDoucer said he had no idea the state was holding money that belongs to the agency. He planned to look into collecting the money.

Others, like Stuart Savelkoul of Bismarck, know the state has their money, but haven’t gotten around to collecting it.

“I know I should do it,” he said. “I even know how to get all of the information (for the claim). I just haven’t done the step-by-step process yet.”

About one-third of the claims are fairly easy to collect, but others require more work, Fisher said.

There is not an expiration date for a claim on the money, so the state can’t take possession of it after a certain period of time without the owner’s consent.

However, the state does use the interest from the fund to benefit the common schools trust fund, Fisher said.

Every state has an unclaimed property law, but some companies claim they don’t know about the law or don’t report unclaimed property until they get caught, she said.

North Dakota has typically fared better than other states with returning money, in terms of what’s collected compared to what’s paid back, Fisher said. Word of mouth helps, since “everyone knows someone who knows someone,” she said. They also run newspaper ads and try other approaches to spread the word.

In fiscal year 2010, the state took in $3.8 million in unclaimed property and paid out $1.5 million.

Is the state holding your money?

To find out if the North Dakota Unclaimed Property Division has money that belongs to you, visit http://www.land.nd.gov./ Click on Unclaimed Property Division. Then click on “To search for unclaimed property by name or city and print a claim form, click here.”

Then search by last name or by city.

If your name is on the list, the amount you are entitled to is $50 or more. The specific amount is not listed on the website.

If your name appears, there are instructions on the website for the claim application. You may also contact the Unclaimed Property Division at (701) 328-2800.

Administrator Linda Fisher warns consumers to beware of unclaimed property scams.

“You should never have to pay to look for your name on an unclaimed property website,” she said. “If you’re in doubt about something, call us.”

If you have lived in states besides North Dakota, she advises visiting missingmoney.com. This national database includes most states and provides contact information for participating unclaimed property divisions.