The cost of three emergency declarations in effect at the same time is taking a toll on the Stutsman County emergency fund, according to Nicole Meland, Stutsman County auditor and chief operating officer.
The Stutsman County emergency fund started this year with a balance of about $1.2 million. As of May 15, the balance was about $950,000 with several bills yet to pay, Meland said.
The emergency fund is the county government savings account to cover expenses when things go badly. The money can only be spent if the county has declared an emergency. At this time, Stutsman County and the state of North Dakota have made emergency declarations dealing with road flooding caused by last fall's record-setting October snowstorm, an emergency declaration for flooding caused by this spring's snowmelt and a third declaration for the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal emergency declarations have been issued for the fall flooding and the coronavirus with one reportedly under consideration for the spring flooding, said Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.
"We are really in uncharted territory," he said. "Even having two at the same time is uncharted territory. We've just never had these kinds of circumstances before."
Meland said so far, the county has not spent emergency funds for the coronavirus pandemic. County spending for the pandemic may be reimbursed by the federal government. Only costs not reimbursed would be spent from the emergency fund.
That leaves two emergency declarations dealing with flood damage to rural roads, said Dave Schwartz, Stutsman County commissioner.
The emergency fund can also be used to cover the local share of projects approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Currently, FEMA pays 75% of approved projects with the state of North Dakota covering 10%. This leaves a 15% local share. Officials are trying to get FEMA to change its policy and cover 90% of approved projects.
"We'll probably run out of money by the time we complete all the emergency grade raises," Schwartz said, referring to county efforts to raise the elevations of roads that are currently underwater. "It is all related to damage done by the flooding last fall and this spring."
Stutsman County is allowed by North Dakota Century Code to levy 4 mills per year for the emergency fund. The tax levy is suspended once the fund balance reaches the equivalent of 10 mills of taxes. The county then maintains the fund and collects interest on the money until an emergency is declared.
A 4-mill levy amounts to $18 in tax on every $100,000 in residential value. The County Commission would need to authorize it during the budget hearings to include it in taxes paid in 2021.
The 10-mill equivalent maximum for the fund is about $1.2 million, Meland said.
"We haven't levied for the emergency fund since the 2017 tax year," she said, referring to taxes that were paid in 2018. "... It had been down to near zero after the flood years in the 2009, '10 and '11 era."
When it comes to roads, state law has some limits in what the funds can be used for.
"You can't purchase road equipment or do road construction projects," Meland said. "You can repair damages done by the disaster."
If county repair costs exceed the balance of the emergency fund, costs could be paid from the county's highway maintenance fund which reduces resources for other road projects, Schwartz said.
"We'll have to see how it goes," Meland said. "When you spend $100,000 at a time on grade raises it goes fast."