Home rule would give flexibilityA regional jail waits somewhere on the horizon for Burleigh and Morton counties. The two county commissions need financial flexibility to pay for the construction and operation of a new lockup without creating a hardship for taxpayers. Right now, they do not have that flexibility.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
A regional jail waits somewhere on the horizon for Burleigh and Morton counties. The two county commissions need financial flexibility to pay for the construction and operation of a new lockup without creating a hardship for taxpayers. Right now, they do not have that flexibility.
Presently, the counties have only one option when it comes to paying for a new jail: property tax. And frankly, that’s a problem.
People had been pushing back on high property taxes. The Legislature will be all about property tax reform.
At least one western North Dakota county constructed a jail and paid for it in record time with a county sales tax. Granted, that county had the good fortune to be in the Oil Patch and its sales tax collections went through the roof.
A county sales tax in Burleigh, Morton or both counties would be an option. We say that without knowing what construction costs would be or any of the other critical factors in determining whether a specific jail proposal would actually be a good idea. Having options for payment, however, is smart.
But counties in North Dakota can’t use the sales tax without home rule, which neither Burleigh County nor Morton County has. And according to state law, home rule charters can be voted on only in primary and general elections. The next opportunity for a vote would be June 2014. That’s well down the road time-wise.
A meeting of area state lawmakers and Burleigh and Morton county officials has been scheduled for Nov. 20 to talk about a jail. One of the things Burleigh County Commissioner Doug Schonert wants to take up is having the state Legislature change the law on home rule, allowing for a charter to be presented to voters in a special election.
Such a change would give the two counties more options if it came to paying for a new jail. The initial estimates are for significant price tag, in the $50 million range. Voters might be very reluctant to add that to their property tax bill. They might, however, be convinced to approve a “dedicated” sales tax for a new jail. At least such a change sets up additional choices for the counties and their residents.
Having this discussion now is smart. Having options would be good.