Local governments have incurred nearly $135,000 in additional expenses dealing with the coronavirus pandemic since March, according to local officials.
Central Valley Health District incurred the most expenses at $83,000 through April 15, according to Tami Dillman, finance director of the health district. The bulk of the costs have been for staff time for coordinating the response to the pandemic.
Stutsman County incurred $36,584 in expenses mostly for required staff overtime dealing with the pandemic, said Nicole Meland, Stutsman County auditor and chief operating officer.
The city of Jamestown's costs were $12,600 and included personal protective equipment purchased for staff and other costs, according to Sarah Hellekson, city administrator.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stabilization Act, commonly known as the CARES Act, has provisions to reimburse local governments for 100% of additional costs attributed to the pandemic. It does not cover losses in revenue local governments may incur and that may be the bigger issue, said Jeff Eslinger, assistant director for the North Dakota Association of Counties.
"That is the million-dollar question," he said, explaining that the information is still being compiled. "The projections from the state are iffy at this time."
Eslinger said the Association of Counties is projecting the revenue situation this year for county governments to be similar to the economic downturn of 2015 through 2016.
Those projections would indicate a 30% decrease to state aid which is based on the amount of sales tax collected by the state and a 15% decline in highway distribution funds which are based on the fuel taxes collected by the state.
In 2020, Stutsman County budgeted for $1.3 million in state aid. A 30% reduction would reduce county revenues by about $350,000. The county also receives $1.8 million in highway distribution funds.
Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, said the reductions will have a significant impact on the county budgets. Local governments are just beginning the budgeting process and must approve preliminary budgets in August.
"I'd like to see some contingency plans (in the budget process)," he said. "This thing is not going to be nice."
Klose said he hoped the county could avoid raising property taxes to cover the losses of other revenues.
"To hit people with a property tax increase to make up for these shortfalls would be tough," he said. "Fortunately, Stutsman County is in decent financial condition. You can't do anything for anyone if you are broke."
The city of Jamestown relies on a mixture of taxes and fees to operate, Hellekson said. Some of those fees are already declining, she said.
"Revenue from utilities (water, wastewater, garbage) to pay for those services are down," Hellekson said. "A majority of the water and wastewater use is from industries and commercial sectors that are currently closed or at reduced capacity. This has caused a decline in utility revenue."
Valuations used for property taxes that fund the general fund of the county and city have already been set and the mill rates will be finalized after the budgets are approved beginning in August. Property taxes will be due in 2021 although some people do pay before the end of the year, Hellekson said.
Other taxes used by the city of Jamestown for operations are collected based on the amount of money people spend, she said.
Taxes such as the lodging and restaurant tax and the city sales tax are collected by the state of North Dakota and then remitted to the city. Hellekson said early information shows collections of all those taxes were down beginning in March although how much the collections for the year will be reduced is still unknown.
"Those amounts could be a delay of one or two months," she said. "We’ll know more by end of June."
Looking farther into the future, the decline in crude oil prices may delay the implementation of North Dakota's Project Prairie Dog. Project Prairie Dog accumulated a portion of the North Dakota tax on crude oil to be provided to local governments for infrastructure projects beginning in 2021.
The city of Jamestown was anticipating $2.5 million for use on an undetermined project in 2021.