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Legislature cuts funding to fire departments

The 12 fire districts that provide service in Stutsman County will see a total of $28,000 less in funding from the state for the next biennium, according to Brian Paulson, a firefighter with the Jamestown Rural Fire Department who has been follow...

The 12 fire districts that provide service in Stutsman County will see a total of $28,000 less in funding from the state for the next biennium, according to Brian Paulson, a firefighter with the Jamestown Rural Fire Department who has been following House Bill 1010.

"It doesn't sound like a big number but for the departments, it is," he said. "We'll need to tighten our belts and maybe do a few more fundraisers."

Fire districts in North Dakota receive funds from a 1.75 percent tax on fire and casualty property insurance sold in the state. Legislation passed in the 2015 session authorized all of the funds from the tax to be distributed to the fire departments.

"This time around, because of the economic problems of the state, they are cutting back," said Jim Reuther, Jamestown fire chief. "That tax was intended for the fire departments, not for the general fund."

While the House version of HB 1010 included a 16.5 percent reduction in distributions to fire departments, the final version agreed to by a House and Senate conference committee compromised on a 5 percent reduction. By reducing the payments to fire departments, a greater amount is left in the North Dakota general fund.

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Jon Godfread, North Dakota insurance commissioner, said the exact amount that will revert to the general fund will depend on tax collections.

"An additional $5 million to the general fund (over the biennium) is a rough number," he said.

The final version of HB 1010 has been approved by the House and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Doug Burgum's signature.

"I anticipate him signing it," Godfread said. "It is fair to say the conference committee met in the middle."

The amount of reduction varies depending on the size of the fire department.

"For Jamestown (Fire Department), that means we're down about $5,000 to $5,500 per year," Reuther said. "The actual amount depends on the insurance premium sales."

The Jamestown Fire Department has a $759,000 budget for 2017.

Paulson said the Jamestown Rural Fire Department anticipated cuts of about $3,000 per year.

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"We're trying to save for a new fire station plus keep the doors open," he said. "We need every bit of income we can get."

Reuther, who made multiple trips to Bismarck to lobby for full funding, said fire departments could have done worse.

"In the long run, it was a big win," he said. "We didn't get what we wanted, but we didn't go backwards a huge amount."

Related Topics: FIRES
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