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Jack Dalrymple

ND governor highlights GF needs in budget

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple outlined his proposed budget and its potential impact on the region in a visit to Grand Forks Thursday.

Dalrymple's budget, unveiled Wednesday, includes a 5.4 percent increase in general fund appropriations in the coming biennium, $2.2 billion in one-time spending and a larger share of the oil production tax revenue for oil-affected counties.

Highlights for Grand Forks include a state commitment for more than $100 million in grants and loans for a new water treatment plant, $5 million for infrastructure needs of the planned Grand Sky unmanned aerial systems business park and $16 million to rebuild an apron area at the Grand Forks International Airport.

Dalrymple, a Republican, discussed his budget proposal with the Herald editorial board Thursday afternoon. Later, local stakeholders and legislators met at a separate meeting and discussed their priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 6.

Dalrymple said it hasn't been decided how much of the state support for the water treatment plant will be loans or grants.

"A lot of things kind of have to play out," he said. "There are many, many cities that want us to come see them and talk about their water treatment plant."

Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber later said that the governor's budget included mostly good news. He said the water treatment plant is the city's top legislative priority, but the proposed funding formula is unclear at this point.

"We're not sure how much of that they want us to pay back," Weber said.

Dalrymple cited the recent news that Northrop Grumman had signed a letter of intent to be the anchor tenant at the Grand Sky aerospace tech park next to the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Project planners envision the park being home to the development of UAS technology.

"We think after Northrop Grumman, we're pretty quickly going to have a couple more buildings built there and we'll need to invest in more infrastructure," Dalrymple said.

In fact, Grand Forks County Commissioner John Schmisek said the Northrop Grumman news increased the interest of five additional companies. He said planners had hoped for more funding for the project's infrastructure, but was grateful to be included in the governor's budget.

The governor's budget also includes $62 million to complete the new University of North Dakota School of Medicine building.

Dalrymple defended the overall increase in state spending that his budget would enact, saying state employees would be added where the needs are obvious like environmental monitoring and law enforcement. Pam Sharp, the director of the state Office of Management and Budget, said there were requests for more than 400 full-time employees. Dalrymple's budget would allow for 247 additional employees.

"That is a good test of the conservative point of view, ... 'Are you controlling your total number of bodies that work in your state government?'" Dalrymple said. "And I think we've really done that well."

Officials from the city of Grand Forks, Grand Forks County, airport, school district and park district met Thursday evening to discuss their respective priorities for the coming session.

Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nybladh said the district supports increased state funding for early childhood education programs, as well as "enhanced" funding for English Language Learner initiatives.

Patrick Dame, the executive director of the Grand Forks International Airport, said he was happy with the governor's $16 million proposed for the apron area replacement. But in a handout presented at Thursday's forum, he said the state's Aeronautics Commission needs more permanent funding than what was included in the governor's budget. It had requested $10 million in additional permanent funding, but appeared to only receive $450,000 in Dalrymple's proposal, the handout states.

Overall, however, local officials sounded pleased with Dalrymple's budget proposal.

"There was lots of good news in the governor's budget," Weber said.