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12-28 Letters to the Tribune
December 27, 2019

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RURAL Act helps electric co-ops

Washington politics have become so polarized that it can be tough for Democrats and Republicans to come together to tackle big challenges. But that's exactly what happened recently on Capitol Hill thanks to dedicated lawmakers like Senators Hoeven and Cramer and Congressman Armstrong.

North Dakota's Congressional delegation listened to thousands of electric cooperative stakeholders as they fought tirelessly to add important legislation to the 2020 spending bill. The bill, which was recently signed into law, included a provision known as the RURAL Act, which solved an existential issue for electric co-ops and America's rural communities.

Electric co-ops work to secure government resources to help pay for numerous activities that benefit the communities they serve. These include grants for storm recovery and economic development.

Every electric utility is one natural disaster away from suffering significant damage to its poles, wires and electrical infrastructure. In North Dakota, we have seen the crippling impact the combination of wind, ice and snow can wreak on even the most sturdy and well maintained of systems. Large scale weather events happen and are out of anyone's control. When these disasters occur, North Dakota's electric cooperatives rely on help from a network of neighboring line crews, equipment providers and contractors, as well as the assistance and financial support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to restore power as safely and efficiently as possible.

In order to maintain their tax-exempt status, co-ops can receive no more than 15 percent of their income from non-member sources. Historically, government grants to co-ops were counted as contributions to capital, but due to a glitch in the 2017 tax law, government grants were reclassified as income, pushing some co-ops beyond the 15 percent threshold and jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

This tax problem left co-ops with an unfair choice. Do they take the money they need to turn the lights back on for their members as quickly as possible after a disaster? Or, do they turn down those grants to avoid spending their members' money paying, unintended taxes rather than improving service?

Thanks to Congress, electric co-ops across North Dakota don't have to make those trade-offs. This is good news for both co-ops and their members, because some co-ops would have had to raise their electric rates to pay new taxes.

North Dakota's electric cooperatives are extremely grateful to Senators Hoeven and Cramer and Congressman Armstrong for their support of the RURAL Act. In standing up for North Dakota's local communities, they proved that Congress still works for the people. Notably, the legislation drew the bipartisan support of more than 300 lawmakers in the House and more than half of the Senate before it was passed. That's a rarity in Washington these days.

In today's fast-paced society, pausing to give thanks is done with increasing rarity. That's unfortunate. Thank you, Senators Hoeven and Cramer and Congressman Armstrong, for working with us to solve this problem and looking out for rural communities across North Dakota.

Josh Kramer,

Executive Vice President and General Manager

North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives

Rugby First

Over the past couple months there has been much talk about a community center. We feel it's important to get in touch with the community about progress toward this goal and recent developments at this time. Rugby First is a local non-profit that was created to search for ways to bring amenities and attractions to Rugby. In the short term we want to support other organizations and groups in pursuit of the same goal. In the long term, our goal is to build and maintain a community center in Rugby for use by the entire community and region. It's this long-term plan to build a community center that finds us named as one of many defendants in a recently filed lawsuit.

We were lucky enough to find partners in town that shared vision and thought the plan worth pursuing. Throughout 2019 discussions continued and eventually Gary and Helen Laughridge decided to donate a piece of land that they owned to Rugby First. They understood the challenge of trying to fundraise and grant write for a community center when we had nowhere to put it, and no money to buy land or a building. Laughridge's had previously donated land for the walking path in town. Gary & Helen hoped that their donation would be the first big step toward putting a plan in place to reach our long-term goal. Their donation to Rugby First was completed in December.

Rugby First is in the very beginning stages of organizing itself, we just took possession of the land this month. Over the next years we will be reaching out to the community about the possibilities of the area, the needs and wants of existing organizations, and fundraising to support our efforts. Rugby First hopes to fund this project with private funding and has not requested, nor plans at this time, to request tax dollars from any entity. Rugby First is not affiliated with any city, county or other government entity.

Currently Rugby First's plans are on hold as we sort out the challenges of this lawsuit. We remain committed to our community, our long-term goal of a community center for all to use and honoring the generous donation of the Laughridge's and their dream of another place for families and children to play and grow year-round. We are hopeful we can find a solution to bring this project to life. We remain dedicated to meeting our challenges head on and working with anyone who expresses concerns.

Rugby First

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