House rejects funding for Ward County jail

Legislators have denied Ward County’s request for $5.2 million toward its jail expansion.

The House voted 16-77 Thursday to defeat a bill that would have allocated $5.2 million from an oil and gas impact fund to the Board of University and School Lands to grant for jail expansion in counties with populations of 45,000 to 65,000. Only Ward County falls in that population category.

Ward County would have had to provide dollar for dollar matching for the jail expansion, expected to cost just over $10 million. Voters approved a half percent sales tax to pay for the jail, a new county office building and courthouse remodeling.

“We are going ahead with the project regardless since we passed the half cent sales tax,” Ward County Commission chairman Jack Nybakken said. Getting the impact aid would have been nice, though, he said.

“Because we would be able to start with with some of our payments. There are going to be some payments coming due with the architects,” he said. State funding also would have helped to pay off the project more quickly.

Nybakken said getting oil and gas money for the expansion is appropriate, considering the jail overcrowding can be attributed to population growth from the impact of oil on the economy.

“I was somewhat optimistic that we would qualify based on the criteria. At the same time, when we found out that it wasn’t going to get a recommendation for a do-pass, that was somewhat disappointing,” Nybakken said.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, who sponsored House Bill 1298, said there is a possibility of getting more impact funding for oil and gas counties this session, and if so, that could help Ward County. Legislators may be willing to support more oil impact funds for Ward County as long as it is unobligated and available for the county to spend it as it wishes, he said.

Ruby and Rep. Roger Brabandt, R-Minot, a co-sponsor, spoke in support of the bill during House debate.

“The jail is bursting out of its seams,” Brabandt told colleagues. “We need your help.”

Other representatives who spoke were hesitant to single out Ward County’s needs.

“Almost every area in the state is going to say the same thing. If we start down this road, we better open up everything for everybody,” Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said.

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, suggested a better way to handle the request is through the existing process of allocating oil impact grants.