- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Lower oil prices could translate into delays in getting a flood protection project built for the Souris River Basin.

Legislators will have to set funding priorities because oil taxes going into the Water Resources Trust Fund are set for a severe drop, Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said at a legislative forum Jan. 31 sponsored by the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce.

The legislature and governor recently adopted a state income projection that is $4 billion less than previously forecast, due to the impact of lower oil prices on state tax collections, the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1zBm3yC ) reported.

“Under the new budget guidelines we are using, there’s going to be $306 million in the Water Resources Trust Fund, so $500 million less” Streyle said. “So it’s very likely that there’s going to be a lot of projects that are not going to get funded. It’s very likely that our flood money is going to go down.”

Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it helps that the trust fund has accumulated a healthy reserve.

“The money is in the water trust fund now for the water bill,” Krebsbach said. “The problem is, are we going to be cutting back on some of that because we will not have as much, perhaps, in the next biennium.”

Depending on what happens with oil prices going forward, it could have a significant effect on appropriations by future legislatures. Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, explained that a price of $74 for a barrel of oil nets a tax that brings $819 million into the trust fund. At $42 a barrel, income drops to $66 million.

“If we are looking at next time, we will probably not be able to allocate as much as we hope, but I think the need is so great to get that project started,” Krebsbach said of Minot area flood control.

The legislature is considering a bill that includes $110 million for work on the Souris Basin flood protection project in the next two years.

“Less money means we get less done. It means it takes longer,” said Ryan Ackerman, project manager for the Souris River Joint Board.

Ackerman said the legislature may need to reconsider how it allocates oil taxes. The Water Resources Trust Fund is just one fund that gets a portion of oil taxes, and that share may need to increase if water projects are a priority, he said.

Minot Mayor Chuck Barney said he senses the state continues to have a strong commitment to flood protection. Talks also are going on at the federal level with the congressional delegation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about funding, he said.

Despite the concern about state revenue, the North Dakota Senate on Thursday passed a $1.1 billion surge funding bill that is designed to get money out to cities and counties in time to bid for infrastructure projects to begin this spring. The bill now is in the House, and Burckhard said indications are the bill could be on the governor’s desk by the end of February.

The bill provides $54 million for Ward County entities. It includes $40 million for Minot, $8.5 million for Ward County, $4.4 million for smaller cities and nearly $1.2 million for townships. Amounts going to oil-field communities include $80 million for Williston, $55 million for Dickinson and $40 million for Watford City.

“I have been very happy with what’s happened in that bill for our area,” Krebsbach said. “If we can see it through, it would be a godsend.”

The surge bill also contains the governor’s proposed $300 million for Department of Transportation projects.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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