BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday, April 17, signed a bill redesigning North Dakota's county social services into as many as 19 multi-county "human service zones."

The bill continues the state's takeover of the cost of social services, which lawmakers have lauded for its property tax relief while sharing resources and preserving services within a region.

“This landmark bill maintains all local access points to services while allowing us to respond better to community needs and promote innovation in service delivery,” Burgum said in a statement. “Social service team members will be able to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time working directly with citizens to address their needs.”

It's not yet clear what the zones' outlines may be. Four counties — Cass, Burleigh, Grand Forks and Ward — are eligible to be their own zones as their populations are more than 60,000 residents.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, previously said eight counties of southwestern North Dakota may be a zone.

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With Burgum's signing, a series of effective dates now come. Counties have until Dec. 1 to form their zones and until June 1, 2020, to select their zone director and submit a plan for operation. Statewide implementation is set for Jan. 1, 2021.

“This is a transformational bill, but the changes it supports will be incremental,” said Chris Jones, executive director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services. “As our pilot projects evolve and roll out statewide in a zone structure, we will improve services and outcomes for North Dakotans.”

The bill may be one of the largest policy bills of the 2019 session, at 93 pages.