GARRISON North Dakota is leveraging its oil revenues well for the most part, but eliminating the property tax would not be a good financial move for the state.
That was the assessment of participants in the ND 2.0 event held in Garrison Wednesday.
About 30 people from several communities from Zap to Velva took part in the Garrison session, one of 12 being held across the state. An initial event also was held in Bismarck and a wrap-up session will be held in Fargo.
Participants in the ND 2.0 event in Garrison Wednesday use remotes to cast their votes on a variety of issues related to North Dakota’s future.
The U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Development state office in Bismarck has enlisted several organization and business partners in offering ND 2.0, an initiative to bring residents together to network, learn about potential opportunities and share their thoughts on the continued success of the state.
Jasper Schneider, state director for Rural Development, said ND 2.0 will help his agency determine where communities are at and where they want to go.
"The worst thing that can happen is 50 years from now we look back on our prosperity and wish we had done things differently," Schneider said.
At the events, audience members use individual remotes to anonymously enter answers to multiple-choice questions related to the state's development needs and challenges. Answers are instantly tabulated.
Nearly half of participants Wednesday agreed that the state is not over-leveraging the future on oil revenue. Another 29 percent thought otherwise, and 29 percent were unsure. One participant expressed satisfaction with the amount of oil revenue being saved versus the money spent, while another said the state needs to be careful to avoid getting caught in an oil bust like the one in the 1980s.
Participants felt greater financial support to local governments would be a good use of the state's budget surplus, but they don't want the state to fully determine local funding. Seventy-nine percent of participants opposed eliminating the state's property tax, the primary source of local funding.
"The money has to come from somewhere," a participated responded. "If it comes from local residents, you feel like you have more control."
One participant also cited the struggles in oil country to maintain services on the oil revenues shared by the state in arguing against complete state control over local budgets. The group also voiced concern that urban interests would out-weigh rural concerns in the distribution of local funding.
However, another participant, once hailed out on his farm, noted the disconnect between property taxes and income. He added that even if voters reject a measure to eliminate the property tax in June, he hopes legislators realize that the tax structure needs to change to become more equitable.
Schneider said Rural Development included the property-tax question in the poll because its programs for local communities require a local match that often comes from property taxes. He said audience members at ND 2.0 events have opposed eliminating the tax by a large margin, and local control often is the reason.
Participants in the Garrison event indicated a stronger consciousness of oil impacts than audience members at other ND 2.0 events farther from the activity.
Thirty-two percent of Garrison participants indicated that the state should be building an oil refinery today to make the most lasting impact on its future. The pace of energy development was listed by 42 percent of participants as the biggest threat to the state's quality of life, although they suggested that "threat" might be too strong of a word to use.
Participants identified demographic shift as the state's greatest challenge for its long-term future. It came in ahead of leadership, health-care access and cost and infrastructure. The audience listed the aging of the population and the influx of new people as demographic changes that will affect the state's future.
The next ND 2.0 meetings are scheduled in Bottineau Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. in the training room of the ambulance building and in Belcourt Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon in the Turtle Mountain College Auditorium.