A bill that allows counties to hold special elections for a home rule charter vote passed the Senate 37-9 and is on its way to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for his signature.
Rep. Larry Klemin, R- Bismarck, introduced House Bill 1156 on behalf of Burleigh and Morton counties. They want to build a new jail to remedy their shortage of space and eliminate the need to house inmates elsewhere in the state.
Sen. Howard Anderson Jr., R-Turtle Lake, of the Senate Political Subdivisions Committee, said the bill was intended for “counties who would like to be on equal footing with other political subdivisions” allowed to schedule election dates.
Cities already can hold special elections for a home rule charter decision. State law now allows county home rule votes only during primary and general elections.
The legislation was driven by Burleigh County’s efforts to pay for a $50 million jail with a sales tax. Counties cannot issue a sales tax without a home rule charter and a separate sales tax decision from county voters.
Burleigh County is holding its first home rule charter commission meeting at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. The five-member committee, made of two county commissioners and three other citizens, will draft the ballot measures and hold at least one public hearing for residents to comment.
“I am very pleased. I hope the governor signs it,” said Burleigh County Commissioner Jerry Woodcox, who will head the Home Rule Charter Commission. Building the jail a year early would save on building costs, he said.
“We still have to take it to a vote. Hopefully, we can have a vote sometime between September and November,” he said.
County Auditor Kevin Glatt said if the governor signs the legislation, the home rule charter and sales tax are still involved processes and “a lot still has to fall into place.” He said there can be no short-term sales tax unless voters first approve the home rule charter.
“The ballot still has to be published 60 days before the election. There will be two questions the ballot — the home rule charter and the sales tax. Before the sales tax can be decided, there needs to be definitive costs for a jail,” Glatt said.
Morton County Commission Chairman Bruce Strinden said the county is studying sharing a jail with Burleigh County and expanding its own jail because property nearby opened up. He does favor paying for a jail with a sales tax.
“I fully expect to get a limited home rule charter and sales tax on the ballot. It is the best, quickest and least painless way to way to pay for a jail for property tax owners,” Strinden said.