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Published April 16 2011

Budget compromise reached for veterans

BISMARCK – North Dakota lawmakers have reached a compromise on the state Veterans Home budget.

At issue was how to spend money privately donated to the home in Lisbon. The legislative committee agreed to use $126,500 for irrigation and oxbow repairs and landscaping to get those projects done.

Another $75,000 will be used to move a gazebo on the current grounds to the new Veterans Home location.

Money from the donation will also be used to hire an architect to design plans for a woodworking shop legislators will review during the 2013 session.

The committee also agreed to establish a Melvin Norgard memorial fund. This will collect all of Norgard’s donated money from mineral lease income, royalties and sale proceeds. Money in the fund will be available for projects and programs that benefit Veterans Home residents.

When Norgard died in 1992, he gave the Veterans Home the mineral rights he owned for 120 acres of land about seven miles south of Watford City in McKenzie County.

Spending would be subject to legislative approval after considering recommendations from the governing board of the Veterans Home.

“It’s apparent that the veterans want ownership in the projects that are created by this fund,” said Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby. “I think it would be in all of our best interest to have this money in this fund established and have this working relationship with the governing board, but because this is state property, the Legislature certainly has some responsibility with that.”

The compromise allows for dealing with projects in a manner that benefits both the state and the veterans living in the home, he said.

The Legislature won’t be able to use the money for anything but the Veterans Home, said Rep. Ralph Metcalf, D-Valley City.

The bill compromise also includes requesting a legislative study of the delivery of services to veterans.

Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, is happy with the compromise. Instead of rushing to construct a woodworking shop, the new approach will allow time to plan the project right, he said.

“I don’t think any of us would mind waiting to make sure that this is going to be a nice tribute to this gentleman (Norgard), and it’s going to be awfully nice for the veterans to have,” Bowman said. “I think it’s kind of a win-win deal for everybody.”

The donated versus state money issue “is going to be a wash” because part of the donated money and part of the general fund money can be used for the workshop, Bowman said.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said the compromise doesn’t achieve the objective of having something identifiable to honor Norgard.

Nelson said he would look seriously at the woodworking shop proposal next session. Whether it’s built with donated or state money, he suggested naming the building after Norgard.

The compromise came from a conference committee of three House members and three Senate members. Both chambers must now vote on the proposal before it’s final.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.