County may bring sales tax issue back

In the midst of an election that included a presidential race and the race for one of North Dakota’s open Senate seat, Williams County was dealt a surprising blow.

Williams County Measure No. 2012-01, which would have charged a half-cent sales tax, was defeated by a slim margin.

“It was intended to be used for infrastructure needs,” said Williams County Commissioner David Montgomery. “Our rural EMTs and fire services are getting so overwhelmed. Just the areas that we felt we weren’t getting all the help, and not being derogatory, from the state.”

The tax would have essentially replaced a tax that the people had already been paying, which was being used to fund improvements to the County Law Enforcement Center. That tax expired in October.

The county commission felt that the measure would pass. Commission Chair Dan Kalil said during Tuesday’s county commission meeting that he felt there was no reason to think that the measure wouldn’t come out favorably.

Montgomery said that the failure might have been the limited time Williams County had to promote the measure.

“We didn’t make the decision until October to put it on the ballot,” said Montgomery. “This is my opinion, but it wasn’t enough time to educate the people on the needs. Plus, I think there was a lot of confusion out there, that people thought it was on top of the half-cent tax that was used for the Law Enforcement Center. It one of those things that if and when it does come again, I think the people understand it and what it’s intended to be used for.”

Much like the rest of the county, the fire departments in Ray and Tioga have been hit hard by the oil boom. Montgomery said many of them have come to the commission looking for help.

“We’ve had some conversations with the EMTs in Tioga and Ray, and they’re getting hit really hard with all the man camps,” said Montgomery. “Tioga said they were losing 20-some thousand dollars in bad debt because people don’t have insurance to pay for it. It’s hard for anybody to lose that kind of money.”

While talks are in the very early stages, it was indicated at Tuesday’s meeting that almost all the people who work for the county would like to see the measure brought up again.

Montgomery said that he hoped it would happen, but he had no idea when it would come up again.

“I would tend to say that (the measure) probably will be (brought up again), I just don’t know when,” said Montgomery. “It’s so hard to say. We could wait until the Legislature is done, and see what happens there. We could put it on a vote for sometime in the spring.”

Despite the measure failing, there will be money coming in from the state to help assist with infrastructure. Montgomery said getting that money involves playing the waiting game.

“That’s probably not going to happen until the Legislature’s done,” said Montgomery. “Those ladies and gentlemen are going to have a fun, interesting and busy session because I’m sure everybody is going to be lining up for a piece of the pie. I would tend to believe we probably won’t know anything until they adjourn or well into the session.”

Montgomery said that no programs will be cut due to the measure failing to pass, and that there is still a lot of work around the county that needs to be done.

“We’ll just carry on as is,” said Montgomery. “As we all know, the roads are in tough shape, too.”

Montgomery also said that most of the money that would be generated wouldn’t come from the everyday shopper, but from the bigger companies in the area.

“The other thing that needed to be stressed to the public is that a lot of those tax dollars are paid by the companies who are using our roads, the oil companies,” said Montgomery. “Williston didn’t lead the state in sales tax because people are going to Walmart and Economart and places like that, it was all the goods that were coming into the county for the oil field. In my mind, it was a fair way of making those that use the services pay for them.”

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