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Grand Forks leaders voice needs to state legislators

Grand Forks leaders met with state legislators Monday to review the most recent legislative session, and to tell lawmakers about the city's requests going forward.

Public safety officials, including PSAP Director Becky Ault, discussed during the "Legislative Luncheon" an ongoing effort to improve communication for first responders through a statewide interoperable radio network (SIRN). As part of the 65th Legislative Assembly, legislators created a local $0.50 tax on each cellphone in the state, which they estimated would generate $9.6 million every biennium for SIRN.

A 2014 statewide study found creating the network would cost approximately $170 million. At the current rate, Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Lorenz said fundraising will take 20 years.

"We've come a long way," Ault said, since the topic first arose three sessions ago. "I think the key on how we're proceeding this time is that involvement on a local level."

City Compensation and Benefits Administrator Tangee Bouvette told legislators and colleagues her department has been keeping an eye on a few bills that will impact public employee health care, including a bill that entails raising employee and employer contributions for benefits.

The city has no stance on the bills, Bouvette said, but City Administrator Todd Feland said he and other staffers prefer consistency.

"Just what we can do to preserve multipliers and benefits," he said. "The funding part we can handle."

UND officials also attended the meeting to share their funding needs with legislators.

"We realize this is a system issue," UND spokesman Peter Johnson said, "But it connects to the Legislature."

The school mainly needs money to supply research needs, and to also maintain its position as referred the state's fifth largest employer, Johnson said.

"If you lifted us up and gave us our own city, we'd only be behind Jamestown in terms of population," he said.

Legislators concluded the meeting by updating city officials with legislative committee news.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said most committees will wrap up this fall, including the Employee Benefits Committee, the Water Topics Overview Committee and the Education Policy Committee.

"And just because a committee doesn't come up with a bunch of bills, doesn't mean they haven't done anything," he said.

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

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