June 24, 2015

NDACo visit offers insight for all

By Annette Tait
Oliver County commissioners aren’t alone in their concerns about energy tax revenue, road funding, social services, and trying to budget for the unexpected. Commission Chair Lee Husfloen, Commissioner Darrell Berger, County Treasurer Laura Huber, County Clerk/Recorder Kim Wilkins, County Tax Director Teri Schulte, and North Dakota State University Extension Agent Rick Schmidt had the opportunity Monday to discuss these issues and more with North Dakota Association of Counties (NDACo) board members and staff during their visit at the county courthouse.
“We visit about 15 counties each year,” NDACo Executive Director Mark Johnson said, noting the visits cycle through all of the counties in the state over about a five-year period. Joining Johnson were NDACo Board of Directors 1st Vice President Jim Peluso, 2nd Vice President Steve Reiser, ND County Commissioners Association President Duane Johnston, and Chuck Horter, NRG Technology Services.
During the visits, county commissioners and officials are invited to voice concerns, ask questions, and let NDACo know of any needs the organization may be able to assist with. NDACo represents the needs of counties in legislative matters, sponsors education and training, and provides information about national trends that may affect the state’s counties and their residents. The gatherings also give NDACo board members and staff opportunities to learn similarities and differences in the hot topics for various counties, and gain perspective on trends in a region or throughout the state.
Topping the commissioners’ concerns were energy-related tax revenues, in particular those related to coal and wind.
“We are very interested in the wind tax and how it will evolve,” Husfloen said, noting there are several wind farms in the county and potential for more to be built. “Gain or loss in taxation will affect the county budget.”
His question initiated a discussion about easement revenues for the towers, how that income is defined by the county for tax purposes, and the potential for tax revenues to decline when the easements expire. As the wind industry is relatively new to North Dakota, many of the questions discussed cannot be answered at this time. However, the commissioners were assured that the concerns voiced are some of the issues NDACo monitors and is prepared to work on in behalf of counties’ best interests during upcoming legislative sessions.  
One funding concern naturally led into the next, with Johnson asking how current highway funding is working for Oliver County.

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