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Legislative Budget Section extends law enforcement reimbursement for cities, counties

Law enforcement reimbursement approved for cities, counties

Cities and counties will be getting additional coronavirus relief money to cover law enforcement salaries. Action by the Legislative Budget Section Tuesday will provide them with more funds than originally anticipated.

The Budget Section approved $61 million to cover shortfalls in the first round of reimbursement that ran from March through July and also extend the period of the promised second reimbursement. Rather than paying salaries through September, reimbursement is available up to the end of the year.

The money comes from $221.4 million in unspent money allocated previously from $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 relief and turned back by agencies. Ward County received $1.3 million in the first reimbursement round. The City of Minot received over $3 million in the first round.

David Lakefield, Minot finance director and acting city manager, said the law enforcement money will go into the city’s general fund as unbudgeted dollars in 2021. He said it will help with additional expenses the city is incurring with COVID-19 adjustments.

Ward County used its first reimbursement to bring down the property tax. The additional money will go into the general fund unallocated at this time.

The Budget Section is making available $411,378 for park districts, $108,615 for rural ambulance districts and $27,237 for cities to reimburse various COVID-related expenses.

The State Fair Association will receive $105,272 for protective equipment and cleaning products, salaries to increase sanitation of buildings, expenses for quarantine individuals, expenses for employee leave due to day care or school closings, reimbursement of unemployment insurance benefits and COVID-19 signage on buildings.

The Budget Section’s only debate was over $16 million in grants to oil companies to incentivize the completion of 80 drilled but uncompleted wells by the end of the year. The grant program will reimburse up to $200,000 for water acquisition and disposal cost per hydraulic fracture completion.

Democrats opposed what they consider to be a subsidy to oil companies. Republicans voted to allocate the money as jobs retention and creation.

“There is no other industry or business in the state right now that we’re providing direct payments for production purposes,” said House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, in a release. “To divert funds away from addressing the public health needs of citizens while this virus is peaking every day is irresponsible.”

Lisa Finley-Deville, Mandaree, Democratic-NPL candidate in District 4, said the state should invest in first responders, especially in rural communities, such as Fort Berthold, where these services are struggling.

“Native Americans are 3.5 times more likely than any other population to contract COVID-19. We can no longer be an afterthought,” she said in a release “We will be a priority only when we elect legislators who actually represent our communities.”

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