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Published February 03 2011

Snowfall strains local budgets:

BISMARCK – North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill to help local governments strained by this year’s snowfall.

Senate Bill 2340 would set aside $19 million to provide emergency snow removal funds to counties, cities and townships.

Of that, $15 million would be provided to counties and cities, using the same formula now used to distribute funds from the highway tax distribution fund.

The $4 million for townships would be distributed the same way, though they would not have to provide matching funds now required under their program.

If approved, Fargo would receive more than $1 million, West Fargo would get about $167,000, and Cass County could count on almost $1.4 million, according to the North Dakota Treasurer’s Office.

“That would be a huge help,” said Barry Johnson, West Fargo public works director. “All these counties and cities in this area could really use this.”

So far, West Fargo has spent almost $125,000 on snow removal in 2011, said City Administrator Jim Brownlee.

“That’s just about all of our snow budget for the whole year,” Brownlee said, adding that the funds need to extend into the end of December.

Cass County’s Highway Department has spent $400,000 on snow removal, said County Engineer Keith Berndt. Finding a place to put future snowfall will drive up costs, he said.

“If we continue to get a lot of snow, our costs will go up disproportionately,” Berndt said.

The assistance proposed under this bill differs from what was offered in 2009, said Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, the prime bill sponsor.

In 2009, there were specific criteria to qualify for state funding. The state provided $7.8 million in assistance that year.

Taylor urged lawmakers to provide assistance statewide this year due to the widespread significant snowfall.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said he’s heard some townships have pulled snowplows because they’re out of money.

“This comes at a time where many areas of our state have had repeated disasters,” he said. “There are very few political subdivisions with much, if any, money in their emergency funds.”

The North Dakota Association of Counties and North Dakota League of Cities testified in favor of the bill. No one opposed it.

The Senate Appropriations Committee assigned a subcommittee to study the bill further.

Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer contributed to this report.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.