Water dispute: Mayor opposes funds for Stutsman Rural WaterJamestown Mayor Katie Andersen testified Thursday against a bill that would provide $9.97 million in funding for Stutsman Rural Water District’s expansion.
By: By Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen testified Thursday against a bill that would provide $9.97 million in funding for Stutsman Rural Water District’s expansion.
House Bill 1269 would provide about $10 million in state grant money for its expansion to serve much of western Stutsman County. The bill was heard by the House Appropriations Committee at the North Dakota Capitol.
Andersen said she opposed the bill because it may affect the territorial dispute between the city of Jamestown and Stutsman Rural Water over service to the area near Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
“As mayor I would like to support this bill,” Andersen said at the hearing. “Unfortunately, Stutsman Rural Water District has chosen not to honor a water purchase contract, initiated by Stutsman Rural Water District, with the city of Jamestown, and they are using their federal indebtedness and the protection of United States Code Chapter 7, section 1926(b), as legal reason to violate the agreement that simply allows Stutsman Rural Water District to purchase water from the city of Jamestown at the same price Jamestown sells water to Jamestown residents and increases the water supply capacities for the district to allow them to serve more rural residents.”
Stutsman Rural Water’s expansion project includes extending its lines to Woodworth, Streeter and rural areas in between. A total of about 750 families would receive water. House Bill 1269 includes an emergency clause that would make the funding available immediately after the governor’s signature, allowing bid letting this spring with construction possible as soon as the ground thaws.
“There was money available at the end of last calendar year so we wanted to move this up so they could be bid this year,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby. “These projects are ready to go.”
The federal law at issue is section 1926 (b), Andersen said. This law only is in effect if the Rural Water District owes a debt to the federal government.
The $9.97 million state grant pays part of an estimated $14 million expansion. The other funds would be borrowed from USDA Rural Development.
“To clarify, the federal debt of only $814,000 can be refinanced, therefore removing the protection of federal law 1926(b),” Andersen said. “The effect of HB 1269, the additional federal debt of over $5 million for Stutsman Rural Water District, is not easily refinanced. Therefore, 1926(b) protection is secured for 40 years. This negatively impacts the legal negotiation position of the city of Jamestown and further complicates the ability of Jamestown to accommodate growth.”
Stutsman Rural Water District was represented by a number of staff, board members and clientele at the meeting. They did not address the committee but Eric Volk, executive director for the North Dakota Association of Rural Water Districts, spoke on their behalf.
“We are extremely favorable for this to move forward,” Volk said. “Sometimes we’re caught in a dilemma when projects are funded in the summer and that delays the project to the next year.”
Volk asked the committee to move the bill along quickly to facilitate the governor’s signature as soon as possible.
“If we do bids in March we can move ground as soon as the weather allows,” he said.
Andersen said the issue was not unique to Jamestown with several communities around North Dakota facing territorial disputes between cities and local rural water districts.
“North Dakota needs a state law to make funding contingent on an equitable territory transfer,” she said. “If that’s a part of this bill we would support it.”
Andersen said another bill — HB 1440 — would set the guidelines for the territory transfer.
Rep. Bob Skarpohl, R-Tioga, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would not allow discussion of HB 1440 as part of the debate on the Rural Water appropriations bill.
Nelson said that adding any amendments to the legislation made passage difficult.
“I am aware of House Bill 1440 and I am aware of the shell games that go on in the Legislature,” he said. “The intent of this bill is to move along these water projects. To do this we need a clean bill. To attach your amendment would complicate matters to no end.”
Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said an amendment would likely kill the bill.
“The city of Jamestown and Rural Water need to cut a deal,” he said. “We may not have $10 million to give them again.”
Any bill with an emergency clause must pass by a two-thirds majority. Brandenburg said any controversy or amendments make that more difficult.
“It is clear to me by attaching a negative amendment they mean to kill the bill,” Nelson said. “No doubt the council means to leave at least 450 families waiting for water for another year.”
Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, is a cosponsor of the bill and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He said it was important for both sides to negotiate.
“We need to pass this bill,” he said. “There are people out there that need the water.”
The appropriations committee took no action on the bill Thursday. It was scheduled for a committee work session committee that could meet Jan. 29.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com