Bill to fund infrastructure, other programs in oil-gas-impacted counties headed for approval

2013-04-17T16:21:00Z 2013-05-17T13:50:05Z Bill to fund infrastructure, other programs in oil-gas-impacted counties headed for approvalBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
April 17, 2013 4:21 pm  • 

HELENA — Cities, counties and schools in Eastern Montana affected by the oil boom along the North Dakota-Montana border are one step closer to getting millions of dollars of state money to help pay for water, sewer and other projects.

The Montana Senate on Wednesday strongly endorsed House Bill 218, which creates a new oil-and-gas impact fund that would make available at least $85 million over the next seven years.

Sen. Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive, said the money will be used primarily to finance new or expanded water, sewer and other infrastructure projects and to handle impacts from the surge of oil-and-gas workers coming to the area.

“These funds are desperately needed to upgrade those facilities so we can continue to complement (services) to fully develop those resources,” he said.

The Senate voted 47-3 to advance the bill, which will be heading back to the House for a final vote. If the House accepts some changes made by the Senate, the bill goes to Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature into law.

Bullock has said he supports a fund to pay for oil-and-gas development impacts in Eastern Montana, but hasn’t taken a specific position on HB218, which is sponsored by Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip.

The bill would deposit $15 million into the oil-and-gas impact fund before July 1, another $10 million within the next year and at least $10 million each year through 2020.

The money comes from a portion of federal mineral lease payments that go into the state treasury.

Local governments would apply for grants for a variety of projects that are needed “as a direct consequence of an increase in oil-and-gas development activity.”

Preference would be given to infrastructure projects, such as water and sewer systems, garbage disposal, roads and bridges. The money also can fund improvements in fire and police protection as well as projects related to “public health and public welfare.”

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, said Wednesday that social services, like centers serving victims of domestic violence, are also being impacted by the influx of oil-and-gas workers. The bill limits the funds for these services to $50,000 a year, and says only 10 percent of the funds can go to fire, police and other administrative services.

The Department of Commerce will oversee the fund and decide on the grants, which would be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. The local government or school district applying for grants also is supposed to provide matching funds.

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