Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

It is my understanding that state employers have to pay the “family rate” even for single employees. As a state, we could save a great deal of money if we could purchase single policies for single employees. Why can’t this be done? It would save about $400/single employee.

Claire Althoff

Mooreton

Thanks for writing! I contacted the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System. Here’s what Executive Director Sparb Collins said:

“The state does not pay the “family rate” for single employees. The health insurance rate for state employees is a blended rate, which takes into account the number of employees that are single and the number of employees that are married.

“The single rate and family rates are averaged to have one rate for all employees. This method is more accurate for budgeting. If the traditional single/family method was used during budgeting, it would be necessary to estimate the number of family and single premiums for the budget period for each agency.

“(This) could result in overestimating the number of family premiums, which would over budget premiums for that agency or overestimating the number of single premiums, which could underfund the premiums for that agency.”

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,

I have a question for your column: In visiting a local drugstore in Fargo recently, I saw signs saying they could not honor the sales price for milk posted in their corporation’s national ad because North Dakota does not allow milk to be sold below a certain price.

I have also noticed coupons for some dairy items cannot be redeemed in North Dakota. What is the rationale behind these restrictions and how did they come into place?

Thanks,

Heather Mitzel

Fargo

Thanks for writing! As far as milk not being sold below a certain price, here is some background on what North Dakota state law (4-18.1-07) says:

“The (North Dakota Milk Marketing) board shall establish for each marketing area the uniform minimum prices to be paid by processors to dairy farmers for raw milk …

“In establishing or changing minimum prices to be paid by processors to dairy farmers for raw milk in each marketing area, the board shall take into consideration the following factors applicable to such area: the available supply of raw milk, the adequacy of the reserve supply of raw milk available to processors, the balance between production and consumption, the cost of dairy feed, farm wage rates and such other factors as will effectuate the purposes and policies of this chapter.

“All such minimum prices must be those which will be beneficial to the public interest, protect the dairy farmers, and ensure an adequate supply of pure and wholesome milk to the inhabitants of the state.

“For each marketing area, the board shall establish minimum prices for each of the following classifications of sales:

a. Sales of milk products by processors or distributors to retailers. Such minimum price for each item is applicable regardless of the location at which the retailer accepts delivery.

b. Sales of milk products by any person to consumers.

“For any marketing area, the board may establish the minimum prices for each of the following classifications of sales:

a. Sales of milk products by processors to distributors.

b. Sales of frozen dairy products by a processor, distributor or retailer to any person.

c. Sales of milk products by a processor to another processor or by a distributor to another distributor.

d. Sales of milk products or frozen dairy products not otherwise provided for in subsections 2 and 3.

The state Ag Department referred me to John Weisgerber of the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board to further answer your question. Here’s what he said:

“The only coupons we’ve seen where there is some kind of a note on there (prohibiting use) are yogurt coupons.

“In the past, we heard that some of the yogurt companies will have North Dakota, Nevada and Louisiana (as states where coupons) are not accepted.

“Generally, those firms hire a law firm to research the different states.

“We’ve told them they (coupons) could be used. Somehow, when the message goes from the law firm that did the research to the company that’s printing the coupon, the information doesn’t get there right.”

“We’re working with those law firms that do the research to get the answer to the company or the marketing end of the company to get the correct information to them.”

In the meantime, Weisgerber said anyone with questions about dairy coupon use can call the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board at (701) 328-9588.

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,

Just wondering how the North Dakota Lottery is making out? Is the lottery making a profit after expenses, and how is the profit being used?

Thanks,

David Jenson

Thompson, N.D.

Thanks for writing! I chatted with Lottery Director Randy Miller to find out what’s new. Here’s what he said:

“The lottery continues to receive broad public support in the play of our games. Fiscal year 2011 ticket sales through May 31 are $21.4 million.

“We’re estimating to transfer approximately $5.4 million to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

“In addition to that, we’re also looking at transferring $422,500 to the multi-jurisdictional drug task force grant fund. Also, each year, $200,000 goes to the compulsive gambling prevention and treatment fund.

“We’re pleased with our sales. Players are continuing to support us and the lottery. We have five games: Powerball, Mega Millions, Hot Lotto, Wild Card 2, and 2 by 2. Last year was our record-setting sales year for the lottery at $24.4 million in sales.”

The Lottery Division is also updating its website and working to enhance social media communication, he said.

The breakdown of each $1 lottery ticket can be found at http://www.lottery.nd.gov/. Here it is:

• Prizes: 52 cents.

• Contracted services: 10 cents.

• Retailer commissions 5 cents.

• Administrative/operating expense: 3 cents.

• Marketing/advertising expense: 3 cents.

• Compulsive gambling prevention and treatment fund: 1 cent.

• Multi-jurisdictional drug task force grant fund: 2 cents.

• Prize reserve pools: 1 cent.

• State general fund: 23 cents.

Dear Teri,

Is it legal to drive down the road with your plug in your boat?

Sandra Sackett

Grafton

Thanks for writing! I contacted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Here’s what Nancy Boldt told me:

“Yes, it is. Most people take them out … there’s no requirement to leave it in or out.”

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,

This is such a great service!

A couple of years ago, I was following a truck on the interstate that was wandering into the left lane occasionally. Not only was I worried about passing it, but I was also worried about the well-being of the driver.

I was able to get the “How’s my driving” number and enough identification of the truck to call the company. They were grateful for the call and followed up right away. The other day, I saw a car driving in the left lane and drifting well into the right lane about three times per mile, even when there was already a vehicle in that lane.

This time, all I had was a license number. My question is whether to call anyone about dangerous driving and, if so, who? 911 seems extreme since this may or may not be considered an emergency.

Thanks,

Ellen Chaffee

Bismarck

Thanks for writing! Here’s what Lt. Jody Skogen of the North Dakota Highway Patrol told me:

“Erratic driving can be caused by a multitude of different reasons. The driving characteristics described in this email appear to be more than just a temporary (lapse) of judgment by the driver.

“They created a risk to the occupants of that vehicle as well as others in the near vicinity. Calling 911 is appropriate when used to summon help. It would have been the appropriate course of action in this case.”

Dear readers,

I had room for another short question/answer this week, so I decided to ask a question that I’ve heard before: “Why do people set up bee colonies so close to roads? I would think this would be a sure way to kill off the bees.”

I contacted the state Ag Department. Here’s what Plant Industries Division Director Judy Carlson told me:

“Beekeepers haul bees to North Dakota from all over the country using semi trucks. They usually unload into a holding yard, which is usually close to paved highways. Soon, these bees are then dispersed to locations that are off the highways, close to or in alfalfa and sweet clover fields.

“This year is especially wet, and beekeepers are having difficulty moving the bee colonies without getting stuck or dumping the colonies. Some of their locations are flooded or too wet to get to them. We have over 10,000 registered locations in North Dakota.

“Unfortunately, there are some beekeepers that put bees close to highways, causing nuisances. When we receive complaints, we contact the beekeeper and encourage them to move the bees to a location further from the road. Bees will fly up to two miles for a nectar source.”

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,

The other week, there was a young man from Washington state caught with lots of money in his vehicle passing through our area. There have also been drug busts in the area. I understand that the vehicles, etc., are all confiscated and sold. My question is: What happens to the money? I’m hoping it all goes into some worthwhile fund and used for the betterment of the communities.

Kathryn Peterson

West Fargo

Thanks for writing! I contacted both the Highway Patrol and the Fargo Police Department for this question. Here’s what Fargo Sgt. Mat Sanders told me:

“Money intended for the purchase of illegal controlled substances or received from the sale of illegal controlled substances is forfeitable under North Dakota law. Vehicles used to transport illegal controlled substances are also forfeitable.

“The money/vehicle is seized and retained until a district court judgment orders it forfeited or returned to the owner. If it is forfeited, the cash and money received from the sale of vehicles are shared by the law enforcement agencies involved in the case and the prosecutor’s office.

“The Fargo Police Department uses these funds to aid future narcotics cases and to purchase police equipment.”

Here’s what Lt. Jody Skogen of the Highway Patrol told me:

“North Dakota Century Code 39-03-18 spells out how forfeitures may be used. The text is as follows:

39-03-18. Highway patrol – Assets forfeiture fund – Purpose – Continuing appropriation. There is created a fund to be known as the highway patrol assets forfeiture fund. The fund consists of funds obtained from moneys, assets and proceeds seized and forfeited pursuant to section 19-03.1-36, amounts received through court proceedings as restitution and amounts remaining from the forfeiture of property after the payment of expenses for forfeiture and sale authorized by law.

The total amount of deposits into the fund may not exceed three hundred thousand dollars within a biennium and any moneys in excess of that amount must be deposited in the general fund.

The funds are appropriated as a continuing appropriation to the highway patrol for the following purposes:

1. For paying expenses necessary to inventory, safeguard, maintain, advertise or sell property seized, detained or forfeited pursuant to section 19-03.1-36, or of any other necessary expenses incident to the seizure, detention or forfeiture of the property.

2. For paying overtime compensation incurred as a result of investigations or violations of any state criminal law or law relating to the control of drug abuse.

3. For purchasing equipment related to criminal interdiction.

4. For paying matching funds required as a condition for receipt of funds from a federal government program awarding monetary grants or assistance for the investigation or apprehension of persons violating the provisions of chapter 19-03.1.

The superintendent of the highway patrol, with the concurrence of the director of the office of management and budget, shall establish the necessary accounting procedures for the use of the fund and shall personally approve, in writing, all requests for the use of the fund.

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, N.D. 58505.

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

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri, 

Since we’ve bought a used car from a South Dakota dealer 18 months ago, we’ve received a number of letters and calls from private companies offering to sell us extended warranties. I don’t mind the contacts, but how do companies know about the vehicle we’ve purchased? The dealer claimed they do not sell or give away our information. Does the North Dakota DMV sell or give away information regarding who has recently purchased vehicles? If they do sell it, how much does the state make from giving out this information?

Thanks,

Eric Pederson

Fort Ransom, N.D.

Thanks for writing! The Motor Vehicle Division has a form that allows people to request vehicle information. The form asks for the identity of the person requesting the information and what information is requested.

The fee is $3 per vehicle or $3 per search if nothing is found.

I contacted Jamie Olson at the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Here’s what she said:

“The North Dakota Department of Transportation follows the state’s Century Code for all requested information from motor vehicle records. The information is outlined in the N.D. Century Code Chapter 39-33.

“To protect the public from unwarranted intrusion, there are restrictions on who can get what information and for what purpose the information can be used. The process to obtain this information begins with filling out a form that can be located on the North Dakota Department of Transportation site. This form must be completed to ensure a valid and documented reason is provided before the release of any information.

“North Dakota law prohibits the disclosure of personal information from the Motor Vehicle Division’s records except to people that meet one or more of the exceptions that are listed on the form. As you will notice on the form, the individual or organization must sign the request to provide signatory validation of the request as lawful and necessary for their intended purpose.

“Thank you for writing into the North Dakota Department of Transportation.”

To expand on this, the form states the following (and contains much of the wording of the state law cited above):

“North Dakota law prohibits the disclosure of personal information from the records of the Motor Vehicle Division except to persons or entities that meet one or more of the exceptions listed below. Personal information is defined as the name or address of vehicle owners.”

There are a dozen exceptions listed on the form, including:

“For use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person acting on behalf of a government agency in carrying out its functions.

“For use in connections with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft; motor vehicle emissions; motor vehicle product alterations, recalls or advisories; performance monitoring of motor vehicles, motor vehicle parts and dealers; motor vehicle market research activities, including survey research; and removal of nonowner records from the original owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers.

“For any use specifically authorized by law that is related to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.”

Olson said they filled approximately 900 requests for vehicle information last year.

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,

Saw you were running short on questions for state government. I have one and really don’t know who to ask. It’s about the state capital building.

The entrance, the big entrance on the south side. Up the granite steps, through the revolving doors and into the chamber with the columns reaching up and such.

I remember so well that entrance from when I was a child and first visited the Capitol. It was so impressive to me.

Today, the public isn’t allowed to use it. That experience is not available in the same way. The revolving doors are locked and even the steps are often not cleaned, but snow accumulates on them.

Instead everyone uses some side or back or underground entrances. I guess I’d call them work entrances. Why is the grand entrance not used? Is it security? Energy?

I just really wonder that one and don’t know really who to ask.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla

Thanks for writing! I am indeed low on questions right now, so keep the questions coming out there.

I contacted both the Highway Patrol and Facility Management. The Highway Patrol referred me to Facility Management. So, here’s what Ronda Berg told me:

“For as long as I can remember, we have closed the Memorial Hall (revolving) doors in the winter months because they are very drafty, and it gets cold in Memorial Hall.

“I think it has been about four or five years that we have had them closed year round. It seems to work quite well because we do use the plaza steps for events and have a lot of wedding pictures, etc. on the steps.

“Also, with having the visitors use the main carport entrance (under the large steps), it seems to serve visitors/customers quite well because the information desk is right inside that entry.”

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, N.D. 58505.

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

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

I received the following letter from a Jamestown reader:

“I am writing this to learn more about tax exempt. I saw your column in the Jamestown Sun. I work for a large discount store, where we issue tax-exempt to businesses and government and so on.

“Well, my question is how do we stop the fraud that goes on? We have some businesses that give their cards to employees, and they misuse these cards. They buy personal merchandise with their tax-exempt cards.

“I would like to know some of the rules and regulations on using tax exempt and how a store can monitor some of these sales. We have some of these businesses that get donations from parents and other businesses, yet they use their school tax exempt to buy gifts for after-prom parties and after-graduation parties. This is just one example. I have more.”

Thanks for writing! I contacted Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. The response below is a mix of comments from him and from Blane Braunberger, supervisor of the sales/use tax compliance area:

“North Dakota law provides for certain non-profit organizations and government entities to be exempt from sales tax. The Tax Department issues a certificate of exemption to eligible entities to be used when making qualified purchases. Sellers should allow tax-exempt purchases only when a copy of the certificate of exemption form issued by the Tax Department is presented to the seller.

“The tax-exempt entity must pay for the purchase directly to the seller, either by check or by credit card. Generally, the use of cash to pay for the purchase should be a red flag. The seller may request additional information from the purchaser to verify the tax-exempt status before the transaction is completed.”

You can find six pages of information about what products are exempt from sales tax and what entities qualify for tax-exempt status at http://tinyurl.com/44ogl6f.

Examples of organizations or institutions exempt from sales tax are:

E State and local fairs: The receipts from sales of tickets or admissions to state, county, district and local fairs are exempt from sales tax during fair week.

E Private and parochial schools: Private nonprofit schools are exempt from sales tax when purchasing items to be used exclusively in the operation of their school.

E Public schools: Public schools are regarded as instrumentalities of state government and as such are exempt from North Dakota sales and use tax on all purchases made by them.

E Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, basic care facilities and emergency medical services providers licensed by the North Dakota Department of Health are exempt from sales tax for all purchases of goods and services for the use or benefit of patients or occupants.

I asked if an entity can have its tax-exempt status revoked for misusing it, and how people can report if they think it’s being misused. Here’s what the Tax Department said:

“These entities are exempt by law, so we most likely would not revoke an exemption. If there is suspected misuse of the exemption certificate and the department is notified, we will check into the matter.

“These exemptions are all based on North Dakota law and were passed during a legislative session. Some of the more recent exemptions passed involved assisted-living facilities and emergency medical providers.

“The number of entities having an exemption is about 3,000. This quantity, however, doesn’t include every federal government agency since they are exempt from sales tax by federal and state law. The estimated impact of lost revenue is difficult to determine since retailers do not report their nontaxable sales to exempt entities as a specific line item on their sales tax return.”

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.

New to North Dakota?

New to North Dakota?

If you’ve moved to North Dakota in the past year for employment opportunities, we want to hear from you.

We’re looking to report how the state’s economic prosperity is changing the face of North Dakota.

Send your name, email, phone number and information about why you moved here and where you moved from to multimedia correspondent Teri Finneman at politics@wday.com.

We will not put any of your information in the paper without contacting you first.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Where will the road construction take place in 2012 in the Fargo district?

Kim Simonsen

Fargo

Thanks for writing! I contacted Jamie Olson at the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Here’s what she said:

“The North Dakota Department of Transportation invites the public to view the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which outlines the department’s projects across the state for the next four years.

“The plan is located on the NDDOT website at www.dot.nd.gov/manuals/manuals-publications.htm by clicking on “Final STIP 2011-2014.”

“The budget for these projects depends on federal funding.

“Page 62 through 66 outlines the projects planned for the Fargo district for the next four years. In 2012, some of the major projects planned include:

E Reconstruction of 10th Street North between 12th and 17th avenues.

E Seventh Avenue North bridge over Interstate 29

E West Fargo Main Avenue between 45th Street and Fifth Street East

“Other projects include roadway overlays, chip seals and pavement repairs on various roadways throughout the district. Thank you for your question.”

I also talked to Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner. Here are some 2012 projects that he shared:

E Water main replacement on NP Avenue from University Drive to Second Street.

E Fourth Street from north of 12th Avenue South to NP Avenue

E 64th Avenue South from University to 25th Street. (tentative)

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.