On November 9, the Cavalier County Commissioners convened with a full agenda.
By Lisa Nowatzki
The minutes and vouchers were approved. Old business included NextEra donation requests. The process to apply for donation monies was outlined. According to Lisa Gellner, the county auditor, NextEra wanted all submissions to go through the commission. NextEra wants all the requests in one packet with a summary of the needs of each project and how much money the entity is requesting. The commission decided to inform the possible recipients that they need to get all the information from the interested parties before the December commission meeting. Possible participants are the Langdon Area High School , the Activity Center, Maple Manor, Cavalier County Memorial Hospital Ambulance, and first responders.
The Commission approved the payments for the American with Disabilities Act updates to the bathrooms in the courthouse and the senior center. Open discussion also included the appointment of a commissioner to fill an expiring term on the library board or continue with a citizen appointee. During the discussion, Commissioner Stanley Dick noted that during his visitation tour of NDSU, the most under used building on campus was the university library. Commissioner Dick went on to say that during the tour, libraries were compared to museums- “a place to store old books” and “people don’t go there anymore.” Dick went on to question the future of county libraries and noted that each of the other twelve county libraries, like the Cavalier County Library, receive funding from their respective counties. During this discussion, Dick recounted a statement from a Langdon resident who used the Langdon library for the computer and internet service because they don’t have a computer. “Is that really what we are supposed to be doing [with the library?]” Dick questioned.
Dick implied technology will soon replace libraries, and the future of any public library, especially a county-funded library, is closure made in the name of budget cuts. Commissioner Dick gave the commissioners one final comment on the future of libraries, “The way things are going, just with that visit of NDSU, their IT center has four rows of twelve computers. That’s where people go to do their research for papers. They don’t go to libraries anymore.”
Commissioner Elsie Magnus commented that “I will always be in favor of having a library here until I have a really good reason not to.”
With no more discussion, David Zeis nominated Chairman Nick Moser to sit on the library committee.
Chairman Moser stated that he had received e-mails that expressed concerns related to the Vanguard assessment. One concern was expressed about the vacant lots and parcel cards. Should townships pay for all the parcel cards made for the vacant lots? Moser also expressed his concern and questioned whether we should be allowing assessors to contact Vanguard and get all this information or should that be just going through our tax director’s office? The consensus was that Vanguard is getting frustrated with the calls received from assessors and others.
Commissioner Dick noted that there are 1607 vacant lots in Cavalier County and less than 200 parcel cards that are legal and contain correct dimensions. With the State’s Attorney’s approval, he suggested lumping the vacant lots that are currently farmed in with the farm land to cut down and eliminate the number of vacant lots and parcel cards that Vanguard has to make.
Commissioner Dick spoke with Vanguard. Their plan is to have all the tax assessment information ready by January or February. The information will then be accessible by the public; Vanguard has to defend the assessments at that point.
Gellner noted that the City of Langdon had paid $160,000 of their Vanguard bill. She asked the Commission to approve the use of the Langdon city funds to make the County’s next $125,000 payment to Vanguard. The group approved the funds transfer and payment to Vanguard.
In other business, the burn ban was approved and then lifted. The Commissioners also voted to make Dr. Emerson the deputy coroner under the current coroner, Dr. Didrikson.
Next, the group heard from Terry Johnston, road supervisor. The Brick Mine Bridge is complete. There are 14 contractors that may bid on other contracts on Tuesday, November 14.
Regarding safety projects, the North Dakota Department of Transportation has identified several projects within the county that need attention. Some roads need edge lining and others need chevrons on the curves. To make the project more appealing, Cavalier County may combine with Walsh and Pembina Counties to make the job more enticing to contractors. The Commissioners then voted to approve the preliminary safety project.
Johnston also mentioned that a private citizen wanted to buy the county’s grey truck that does not have a motor. The group voted to approve the sale of the truck for scrap to the private citizen.
The Commissioners then began approving financial transfers. First $125,190 was approved to transfer from the Vanguard account to the general account. Next, $33,000 was approved to transfer from the County to Social Welfare. Then, $45,500 was approved to transfer from special county highways to the road and bridge account. A transfer from road and bridge to road and bridge equipment and replacement fund for $2765 was approved along with $359.88. Then a transfer from the road and bridge fund to the road and bridge access levy fund for $3598.83 was approved.
After transfer approvals, Leon Hiltner filled the Commission in on the status of the Veteran’s Service Office (VSO) regarding Leslie Ross and her information requests. Hiltner does not believe that county VSOs need to be accredited with each and every veterans service organizations.
Hiltner’s main point and advice to the Commissioners was not to confuse accreditation with training and education. Hiltner has had extensive education and training. He also said that the North Dakota legislature has pass a law that states each VSO must have accreditation with at least one veterans service organization. However, no penalty is attached to non-compliance. The Commissioners voted to table the issue until next meeting so Commissioners Magnus and Dick can research the accreditation issue.
The group then heard from Shannon Duerr of the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (JDA). Duerr explained to the board that to receive federal grants, the building (courthouse) has to be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The plan is in place to make the courthouse compliant.
Duerr also touched on the Brownfield federal grant that would help with the clean-up in and around the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex. She stated that next month the JDA will be seeking an outside source to purchase and/or develop the site.
The JDA helped fund the Building Tomorrow’s Leaders Program with Macine Lukach. The program was successful and won some awards. Lukach plans to expand and develop the program in the future. Funding for the ADA improvements to the bathrooms was approved. The JDA has also helped secure a grant for 31 new daycare spots for the county. Duerr also mentioned that the JDA helped secure training for seven new EMTs in the county. The funds for education and training would be forgiven after 576 call hours in the Cavalier County area.
The County Commissioners were informed of the loan to Kyle Moen to replace a storefront facade on Main Street. The JDA also reported giving a no-interest loan to Billy and Marie Mack to buy the Bread Pan, and HHH Ranch’s loan was assumed by Leon Peterson, both endeavours preserving the current jobs associated with each business.
The Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex has hired Carol Goodman as a consultant to handle the business – job creation side, and Shannon Duerr will do the historical, cultural and tourism end. Duerr wants to create a type of virtual tour of the site. She hired a company to take 42 360-degree images of the site with an added virtual reality component. She is also working on a possible documentary of the site with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help pay for the project.
Commissioners heard from Larry Lien who asked to remove an unlivable structure from his property and remove the prior year’s taxes. The motion was approved then the Commission adjourned for William ‘Bill’ Hardy’s abatement hearing.
The abatement hearing was initiated to remove a hunting cabin on the adjoining property not owned by Hardy. He also asked the Commission to remove the taxes of $4204 for the 2015 and 2016 years . The Commission adjourned the abatement hearing and reconvened the Commission meeting. The group approved the abatement and removal of the past two years’ taxes and structure from Hardy’s land.
Nekoma mayor Paul Liebersbach addressed the board on behalf of the Nekoma township regarding the Vanguard assessment. First, he wanted to have a detailed map of where some of the parcels attributed to the Nekoma Township came from. For example, the town was billed for 73 vacant lots, but, in reality, Nekoma has 217. They were also assessed for 41 urban residential lots, but Nekoma has 21 urban residential lots. Nekoma was also assess for 16 businesses which are not there. The board suggested to Liebersbach that some of the prior old businesses are not there, but the lots are listed as commercial property which would account for some of the discrepancies. Some of the parcels may have been combined. The commission also pointed out that the assessment is the first draft and may not reflect the final assessments. Liebersbach also said that no one from Vanguard made return visits to reassess properties by owners who were not home when the initial assessment was made. Liebersbach said that multiple attempts to get Vanguard to return and do an assessment while the property owners were at home have been unsuccessful.
Liebersbach also questioned the city of Nekoma’s need to be reassessed when the township worked hard to equalize and assess taxes accurately. The Commission stated that the county needed to be assessed and equalized by an impartial third party, therefore, everyone was reassessed. The Mayor then informed the group that Nekoma’s portion of the assessment bill, $15,600, is a large burden and hardship to the township which means that Nekoma will have to delay repayment of other bills.
After a lengthy discussion, the commission moved on to Jolene Ullyott from Human Resources. According to Ullyott, the County’s human resource policy manual needed clarification of a number of policies. First, the inclement weather, overtime, comp-time, and vacation time policies’ corrections were discussed and approved. Then, official days for the Christmas holiday was addressed and set.
Next, the Commission addressed Leon Pederson of the County Weed Board. Peterson was seeking pay equalization to reflect other counties’ weed board pay. The Commission heard both sides and voted to leave Pederson’s pay as it is because the budget has already been approved and no extra funds are available.
Then Pam Lafrenz presented the tax appeals denied by the state. Next, the Soils Committee spoke to the Commission regarding their projected activities for 2018. The group has assigned values of farm sites at a $1000 an acre, trees at $200 per acre, and undrained crop land at $16 an acre.
The Committee also proposed the need for updated images from Sidwell for 2017. After more discussion, the Commission decided to have an open discussion and pay vouchers. Afterward, a call for adjournment was made and approved.