On Tuesday, January 7, Cavalier County Commission met for the first time in the new year. Present were Austin Lafrenz, Greg Goodman, Stanley Dick, and David Zeis.
After dispensing with the approvals of the agenda, past minutes, old business, and open discussion, the Commission got down to work.
First, Sheriff Greg Fetsch began by addressing the Towner County 911 proposed contract. Fetsch presented the members with a breakdown of the number of 911 and admin calls received by Towner County during the last four months of 2019. Between September and December 2019, the Towner County received 85 911 calls; 36 calls were mistakes or misdials. Towner County also received a total of 88 administrative calls for the period. Fetsch commented that there was a discrepancy between the number of calls provided by Towner County and their previous after-hours provider, Devils Lake.
Fetsch also noted that Towner County paid Devils Lake one mil for their services but thought that they would not be willing to pay Cavalier County the same one mil. Previously, Emergency Services Manager Karen Kempert recommended changing the one mil to three-fourths of a mil in the contract. The changes were made and presented to the Towner County commissioners and the county auditor during a phone conference. As expected, the Towner County commissioners did not want to pay Cavalier County for the same services they had paid to Devils Lake.
County auditor Lisa Gellner and the other commissioners pointed out that Cavalier County could not offer those services for free. If Cavalier County answered the Towner County 911 calls, then Cavalier County would incur costs related to the calls, like long distance call costs and increased insurance liabilities. A one-time, upfront annual fee of $15,000 with a re-evaluation at the end of the 12-month contract was then proposed to the Towner County Commission. They countered with $10,000 paid at the end of the year. Commissioner Stanley Dick explained to the Towner County commissioners that Cavalier County was unwilling to pay upfront costs without having the money from Towner County.
The Towner County commissioners said that they would have to think about Cavalier County’s proposal and would let the Commission know before the March 1, 2020, contract date.
The next big-ticket item on the agenda was the North Dakota Forest Service Forest Stewardship program. Owners of 10 or more acres of forest land can voluntarily participate in the Forestry Stewardship Program that is designed to help protect native North Dakota forests. Landowners are charged 50 cents per acre on all acreage that participates in the program. According to the ND Century Code, landowners must first get permission from their county commission to participate and then contact the ND Forestry Service. The program contract lasts for five years and has to be re-approved by the landowner, county commission, and the Forestry Service.
Commissioner Dick and the other commissioners, along with tax director, Steph Bata, expressed frustration with the program and the ND Forestry Service. After rounds of phone-tag with the ND Forestry Service, no one seems to know what landowner contracts have been renewed, expired, or are up for renewal because the ND Forestry Service has not sought out the Commission’s approval for most of the land under the Forestry Stewardship Program in Cavalier County.
The Commission then consulted with county attorney Scott Stewart in regards to the Stewardship Program. In essence, the commissioners want to find out what course of actions the county can take to find the actual contract expiration dates maintained by the ND Forestry Service and what action the county can take if the five-year contracts have not been renewed according to the ND Century Code.
Finally, the Commission spoke with Jill Denault from Social Services. County auditor Gellner informed Denault that all county vehicles designated as “zonal vehicles” have been signed over to the new social services zone.
The issue of personnel and hiring a zone director was tabled until the county receives the applications and the state approves the county’s choices.