An agreement is near on a bill to have the state pick up the cost of county social services.
The House Finance and Taxation Committee has aspproved amendments to the bill introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo. The amendments call for a two year pilot project, involving having the state take over all North Dakota counties’ costs for providing social service programs. Then, after two years,
"We're going to ask the Department of Human Services to put in their budget a plan for the future," Carlson told Capitol reporters.
Carlson said the state will take over the actual costs of the programs – without “hold harmless” clauses. As originally proposed, counties that don’t levy the maximum 20 mills for social services would get an extra pot of money, so that property tax payer would see relief equal what people would have received in the current 12 percent buy down program. He said the amendment also encourages efficiencies and consolidations in services wherever possible.
"Most of them are mandated services," Carlson said. "And the counties have always felt that because they're mandated, we (the state) should be paying for them."
Carlson said it is a good plan.
"It was a hard pill to swallow on the 12 percent," Carlson said. "The reality is -- we (the state) neitehr collect nor assess property tax, and it's time to take a different direction."
The price tag is $161 million per year, versus the estimated $270 million for the 12 percent program.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) said this is a compromise he can live with. He said once that 20 mill authorization is gone, counties can’t transfer those mills someplace else.
"That's one of the things that property taxpayers are very upset about, is the counties continue to keep using these mills for other purposes," Wardner said. "Those will be taken off the books."
Carlson said this will also free up some money to help balance the general fund budget.