Friday, July 31, 2015

Legislative Committee Gets First Look at Social Service Study

Several times during the Political Subdivision Taxation Committee meeting the word “painful” was used in referring to understanding the complexity of the county social service funding system. For several legislators serving on this committee, it was the first time social service funding had been explained to them. It is the committee’s task to study the development of a plan to transfer the costs of operating social services from county property tax levies to general fund dollars. The committee make-up will add value in the planning process. Committee members are a mix of lawmakers who primarily have experience serving on taxation, human services, and political subdivisions committees.  
This was the first meeting of the Political Subdivision Taxation Committee. They were provided a background on the numerous programs and variety of services provided through county social services. In addition, they reviewed the funding history of social services dating back to 1981 when the social service levy was created. 
Traynor testifies before Interim Political Subdivision Taxation Committee

NDACo’s Terry Traynor stressed the need to preserve access to services at the local level. He gave several real-life examples legislators could relate to in illustrating the importance. “When an officer arrests a parent, a child welfare worker is needed there now. We need to make sure that service is in the county.”
Legislators appropriated $23 million to shift the grant costs for county social services to the state. In the same bill, they directed this study. If the Legislature decides to support the transition, it could mean $125 million in property tax relief for North Dakota taxpayers.
A working group has been established to assist the legislative committee in information gathering. A majority of the members on the working group have direct experience with social services. They will evaluate the funding needs and develop a formula to fund social services in the future. The group is currently collecting caseload and financial information from counties. Auditors and Social Service Directors received an email earlier this week from NDACo requesting information, as well as providing a tool to assist in the 2016 budget limitation for social services as set forth by the Legislature. The working group is made up of county social service directors, commissioners, Traynor from NDACo and department representatives from Human Services, Tax and the Office of Management and Budget. The working group meets again September 2nd.

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