Wednesday, July 25, Cavalier County Commissioners and local county department heads met for a roundtable discussion with the North Dakota Association of Counties (NDACo) and the president of the ND County Commissioners Association (NDCCA).
By Lisa Nowatzki
President Devra Smestad, Executive Director Terry Traynor, NDACo Human Resources Coordinator Chuck Horter, and Government/Public Relations Specialist Donnell Hushka represented the NDCo. The president of the NDCCA, Reinhard Hauck, also listened to the concerns of the county department representatives.
This year on the President’s tour the group met with representatives from five eastern counties including Cavalier, Bottineau, Rolette, Towner, and Pembina counties. The group wanted to hear concerns that they could take back to Governor Burgum to discuss at the upcoming budget hearings in Bismarck.
Vicki Kubat, representing the Cavalier County Recorder’s office, mentioned that her office and the Association of County Recorders are pushing to finish the e-recording process with the goal of implementing the e-recording process in all 53 counties.
E-recording, or electronically recording all documents in the recorder’s office, ensures that all documents are stored electronically. Others in and outside North Dakota can have instant access to the documents.
Cavalier County Auditor Lisa Gellner worries about the county’s voting machines. The machines need updating or replacing. Currently, they run on an older operating system, Windows 7. Microsoft stopped mainstream support for Windows 7 in 2015.
Gellner also wants the budget committee to understand that the August 10 date for estimated tax statements is very tight because it is hard for some departments to get their budgets done in time. Also, the August 10 statements do not contain special assessments like street repairs specific to a resident. Many people will get the August 10 estimated taxes and think the estimated tax is what they owe to the county for taxes.
County Commissioner Stanley Dick thought that the meeting went very well. He also said that some of the Association members told him that the Cavalier County meeting was one of the best that they had gone to.
“Everyone was very pleased,” Dick said. “I am very pleased with how the county stepped up. Our county has a chance to have a real voice in the upcoming budget hearings.”
Commissioner Dick discussed three main points with the Association. First, he wanted NDACo members and Governor Burgum to know that Cavalier County fully supports our County Extension Service. However, state-wide the Extension Service needs help from the state.
The Extension Service will receive $4.1 million less this biennium than the original 2015-2017 budget which equates to a 14% cut. The Extension Service had to operate with reduced revenue in the previous biennium budget. Therefore, additional budget reductions are challenging.
Local and county infrastructures is another point Commissioner Dick hit upon. Since Governor Burgum cut out $10,000 to more than 1600 townships statewide, many of the smaller communities have failing and aging roads and bridges. They depend on the money from the state to improve their infrastructure.
The reliability of the voting machines that Cavalier County uses is another issue Commissioner Dick brought to the attention of the NDACo members. The commissioners and the county auditor all believe that the state needs to do more to support updating the machines or purchase new voting machines.
Unfunded mandates are problematic for local governments according to Commissioner Dick. He cites the Vanguard equalization survey as a prime example. The state tax board required Cavalier County to comply with current tax laws which amounted to a tax equalization survey.
The state required compliance but did not fund or help Cavalier County with the equalization project. Many county residents think the commissioners voted for an equalization project without any direction from the state, which is a fallacy.
Karen Kempert, Cavalier County 911 Director, thinks that the meeting went well and that the team members listened to everyone’s concerns. She would like to have the state pay for an education campaign to give the general public a better idea of where their tax money for the 911 fund has gone. Since 1994 Cavalier County’s 911 fee has been $1. Kempert said that the measure to raise the fee to $1.50 should be explained to the voting public.
911 costs have risen over 300 percent in the last few years. A public safety radio costs between $1,400 and $1,700. These types of expenses always seem to increase; they never get cheaper.
Kempert also wants the public to know that the current monthly bill for 911 emergency services shows up as $1.50 charge. The extra 50 cents is an emergency services fee mandated by the state of North Dakota, not by Cavalier County, and goes to the state.
Macine Lukach, Extension Agent/Parent and Family Resources Center of Region 3, thought that the meeting went well and that the members of the President’s Tour Committee listened to everyone’s concerns and comments. Lukach believed that the review conducted by the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education was very informative.
The report showed the value of extension services in the county. It also had several positive recommendations for the Extension Service that the state Budgeting Committee should review.
Dr. Anitha Chirumamilla, Extension Agent/Agricultural, and Natural Resources, spoke about all the services offered to Cavalier County residents. According to the Extension website, through educational programs, publications, and events, extension agents deliver unbiased, research-based information to Cavalier County citizens.
Cavalier County Sheriff Greg Fetsch spoke to the committee about the county’s police dog. The animal is eight-years-old and in good health. Chief Deputy Paul Podhradsky is the handler. Both Podhradsky and the dog have to go annually for training.
Sheriff Fetsch noted that he hopes to get two or three more years of service out of the dog. The dog handler of a police dog has to devote a significant amount of time to the animal for training. After the current dog retires, Sheriff Fetsch does not know if Podhradsky will want to train with another dog.
After the meeting and a quick tour of the courthouse, the group drove to Nekoma for a tour of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex by Shannon Duerr, Executive Director of the Cavalier County Job Development Association, then on to dinner at Frost Fire.