The Commission had a short agenda but that didn’t mean it wasn’t full of important business. The Commission revisited recent actions and issues as well as being presented with new ones.
By Melissa Anderson
Debra Olson from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Center (DVAC) which serves the Walsh, Pembina, and Cavalier counties requested an increase in funding as the DVAC budget has increased by over $200,000 over the last few years. The commissioners asked what percentage of how residents were from Cavalier County, of which Olson said about 25 percent of the work they do. Olson also explained that while the counties do provide funding, they also get funding from state and federal as well as grants. DVAC assists victims/families through various means including paying utility accounts that have lapsed after the abuser has left the home.
“It’s unfortunate that the main granters kind of forget about us up in our corner of the world, and because we are not urban we certainly do not get what we should probably get, which is why we end up going to the county and the smaller foundations to get what we can get,” Olson said.
After cutting costs as much as possible, Olson also stated that they have been the busiest they have ever been on record. Olson stated that this is actually a good thing because this means that people are coming forward, leaving those relationships or dealing with those relationships that are abusive. Olson credits this surge in those seeking help because of the effort DVAC is doing to be more present and available to the communities. A goal is to have a mobile advocacy that can travel to smaller towns such as Nekoma to assist those who need the services DVAC provides. Olson will be visiting with the other two county commissions to ask for additional funding as well. This expense is also one that had been included in the social services budget which will now most likely shift to county general. The Commission will work through the request during budgeting sessions and wait for the amounts Walsh and Pembina will be giving.
Langdon Area School District Superintendent Daren Christianson presented the recent decision made at the last LASD board meeting regarding a vote to raise the building mill levy. Christianson explained the plan to improve the Langdon Area Elementary school through better air quality and energy efficiency. Christianson went over the need to increase the mills, which are currently at 3 with an additional 12 mills for a total mill levy of 15 to provide a better learning environment and ultimately increase the longevity of the school buildings. The measure will be placed on a special ballot and must receive 60 percent support of those who vote.
The commissioners met with Cavalier County Social Services Director Jill Denault and Cavalier County States Attorney Scott Stewart to review the concerns for Cavalier County regarding the upcoming change to zonal control for social services. Commissioner Stanley Dick reiterated that the proposed zone with Pembina, Walsh, and Cavalier is a unique situation amongst the state which creates a lot of questions. Still, a major concern is the expenditures being put on the future host county.
Cavalier County Auditor Lisa Gellner explained that the State will be setting budgets based on two year old audits and only reimbursing the host county at a 25 percent rate for indirect costs related to the handling of social services business. The commissioners and Gellner discussed at length new questions that had been raised about the social services redesign from other auditors at a recent meeting. Some of the questions posed included how counties would handle closures of some offices while others remained open for holidays/storm days. The issue of if a social services employee were to have an accident, who would be liable. Gellner expressed frustration that the state representatives could not provide answers and instead reacted to questions raised as though they were petty and far-fetched. The upcoming special meeting between the three counties in the proposed zone will be more about designating a host county rather than addressing the issues of logistics between the three counties.
“If do not know answers to these and cannot come up with an agreement to be a host, what will happen?” asked Dick.
Another concern raised was what if the state can no longer fund the social serivces program as promised. The Commission reviewed possible scenarios of what would happen when this issue arises and who will absorb the cost of running the program when the state cannot provide funding. Currently, Pembina and Cavalier have room in their general fund to raise mills while Walsh is maxed out. Solutions were proposed to try and solve some of the issues such as having a separate policy manual just for the social services employees. However, the statute is both vague on how things will be handled and explicit in its timeline of what must occur. The commissioners, along with Gellner, Denault, and Stewart, had many questions and issues that will be brought forward at the upcoming meeting. The biggest concern for all is the timeline for putting a host county in place prior to the plan or director being placed creating uncertainty for the financial ramifications that the host county would face.
In Other Business
• The Commission met with Cavalier County Tax Director Steph Bata to discuss the map factors that were adjusted at a previous meeting. Bata and the commissioners discussed the losses and gains that resulted in each township as a result of the adjustment made.
• Commissioner Nick Moser received an open records request regarding the change in decision to hire a new Veterans Services Officer.
• The commissioners also approved a new measure that all road operators are required to have a cell phone for communicative purchases whether the county purchases the phone and plan or pays for the plan they currently hold for official use. This measure follows months of failed negotation and communitcation with road operators to have some way of contacting the road men while out of the shop.