A one-cent county sales tax is being discussed to provide public safety operations, and the city is seeking half to fund its own services.
The tax, a joint-effort between Williams County and city of Williston officials, is projected to pull in more than $30 million annually, according Williams County. City officials said Thursday there’s legal language to work out between the two sides, but signs are pointing to the ballot measure moving forward.
Williston’s proposed half-share of the tax would provide it with the $12 to $15 million needed to operate and improve fire, police and ambulance services. Williston is the only major city in North Dakota that does not contract out its ambulance service, said City Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl. The funding from the sales tax would help the city fund more fire and EMS substations, hire additional staff for the new buildings and afford other public safety expenses such as a moving forward on a full-time fire department.
The other half of the sales tax would help Williams County and smaller cities like Tioga, Ray and Wildrose.
“Ray and Tioga need the same help we do, it’s just a different dollar amount,” Bekkedahl said. “They might need $1 million instead of the $15 million we need.”
Currently, a property tax mill levy helps fund public safety operations. Bekkedahl said the city tried to avoid a property tax levy, but couldn’t after 2012. If the proposed sales tax is passed by the voters in November and provides the expected funding, Bekkedahl said the city would have to consider altering the property tax levy.
Commissioners on Tuesday approved a backup ballot measure, proposing a half-cent city sales tax. The city measure would be in the event the city and county are unable to reach an agreement on the one-cent measure by the Sept. 2 deadline.
“Everything we do out here is us versus them, that’s what they do in the legislature,” said Mayor Howard Klug. “This the way we’re going to do it, as long as Williston gets what it needs. We’ll take the same approach with the county.”
Bekkedahl said the city was headed down the road of taking a half-cent sales tax to the ballot until the county proposed cooperating with the city as a way to fund subsidiary cities and county services.
Williston generated about 70 percent of taxable sales and purchases in Williams County in 2013. The city produced $3.3 billion from sales taxes, while the county raked in a total of $4.4 billion. A cooperative tax would provide the rest of the county with a share of Williston’s majority input, even if a full 50 percent is sent to Williston and the other 50 percent to other parts of the county.
A special meeting of the Williams County Commission took place Aug. 21 to discuss the tax, and commissioners unanimously voted to support it.
The county identified 23 different departments that would benefit: Alamo/Blacktail, Epping, Grenora, Ray, Trenton, Tioga Rural, Wildrose and Williston city and rural fire departments, Ray, Tioga and Williston crash rescue teams, the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, Williston, Tioga and Ray police departments, city-county dispatch centers and Williams County Emergency Management.