The Cavalier County Commission held a long meeting on Tuesday, February 19 as they invited landowners with property enrolled in the Forest Stewardship Program to meet with them and discuss the continuation of the program. The well-attended meeting also had three representatives from the North Dakota Forestry Service present to explain the program and its purpose.
By Melissa Anderson
Interim State Forester Tom Claeys gave background information regarding the law and how it has been updated over the years. The Forest Stewardship Tax Law (N.D.C.C. 57-57) was first passed in 1967 as a means to give landowners incentive to maintain native woodlands by receiving a significant tax break. The law was updated in 1975 to include both native and planted woodland. The last update to the law was in 1991 when the tax rate was increased to $0.50 an acre for qualifying parcels enrolled in the program.
According to Josh Wolk, the forest stewardship specialist based in Walhalla, Cavalier County currently has 21,986.8 acres enrolled in the program. That is just over half of the total acreage enrolled in the program across eight counties. The acreage enrolled in the program is contracted for five years and reviewed yearly to ensure no destructive practices such as clearing, grazing, burning, cutting or any other type of practice is occurring. Should the landowner be found in violation, those acres affected are removed from the program while the remaining acres not affected can remain in the program.
The program received overwhelming support from the landowners who were present and had vested interest in the program continuing in the county. Commissioner Stanley Dick explained that the reason the program was being reviewed was a result of so many acres being in the program. By having that many acres being taxed so low and also being removed from any excess levy that affect that county such as those for school districts, Dick felt that it was unfair to other landowners in the county as well as there being a loss of revenue for the county.
The Commission also met with Cavalier County water board member Van Howatt and Cavalier County road supervisor Terry Johnston to discuss bridges and culverts that are in need of replacement. Howatt explained that the concern for the water board is the precedence that could be set by addressing these bridges that are used rarely. Dick raised a point by asking why the water board and county are not budgeting to replace the bridges and culverts in the first place since there are so many that need to be addressed.
Terry Girodat and Cavalier County auditor Lisa Gellner reviewed the bids that were submitted for the courthouse bathroom project. Two bids were submitted, and the low winning bid came from the Walhalla Building Center which estimated the project to be done for $49,900.
Gellner and deputy auditor Monica Porterfield addressed the Commission for their need of a part-time employee to assist them in the auditor’s office. Gellner and Porterfield were most adamant that the assistance is needed especially during election years. Commissioner Nick Moser believed that a current employee within the courthouse could come to the auditor’s office one day a week and help them with whatever they need. Some duties were also relegated to the tax director’s office.
The Commission had a telephone conference with HR officer Crystal Beggs for updates. The Commission and Beggs decided that it would be beneficial for her to be on the salary committee. Beggs will also provide a salary analysis for the county. The weather policy was discussed relating to if employees who do not make it to the courthouse due to inclement weather and the courthouse is open- if that employee must take a vacation day.
Beggs also had started reviewing the use of flextime by the courthouse after its implementation and found inconsistencies. Beggs recommended the policy be reviewed, and the commissioners will hold a training session for all employees and department heads.