County approves upgrades, highway renovations

Ward County Commissioners held a special meeting Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., ahead of their regular meeting at 9 a.m., but much of it was held in executive session behind closed doors. Just prior to the beginning of their regular meeting, media and others were let into the commissioner’s chambers where commissioners voted to terminate an unnamed county employee.

“I guess, in my opinion, when you see all the errors that were made we need to develop a stricter policy of zero-tolerance and we’ve got to follow the rules and regulations,” said commissioner Jerome Gruenberg before making the motion for termination. “There were a number of rules broken here and I think it justifies terminating” the employee.

The motion passed unanimously, except for commissioner Shelly Weppler who abstained from the vote due to having missed out on some information.

The identity of the employee or the position were not made public by county officials.

The regular meeting was productive and saw approval for many projects, including an updgrade for the New World computer system that is shared by the county and the city of Minot for all law enforcement activities.

The upgrade, which will cost more than $1 million, will be split between the city, which will pay for about 70 percent, and the county, which will pay about 30 percent. It is said to be the largest upgrade New World has released since it was first used here in 1992, and the system will go from a “green-screen” the AS-400 IBM platform used in old computer terminals format to a Windows-based user-interface. Part of the cost will go to a five-year technical support plan with an additional server located in county offices as a redundancy measure.

In other technical reports, county IT administrator Jason Blowers reported that for “right now” the lack-of-space issues facing county servers are resolved.

County engineer Dana Larsen’s request for beginning a bidding process for crack sealing and sealcoat projects on county highways and roads were approved. There is more than 300 miles of roads and highways in the county and this project isn’t to seal all of them, just the repairs delayed to make room in the budget for other projects. A machine used to facilitate sealing the roads that was purchased years ago has not seen use and county employees haven’t been used for the repairs for about three to four years, according to Larsen.

An architect’s bid for an addition and remodeling to the Ward County Highway Department building was approved by the commissioners. The bid, at about $869,000, was less than the $1 million budgeted for the project.

Financial consultant Myron Knutson presented two options for bonding two upcoming county projects. One option was to offer bonds for both the $41 million for the new county office building, jail and courthouse renovations and the $10 million for county road upgrades at the same time. The other option was to bond for half now and half next year.

Weppler moved that the first option be taken, to bond all at once, and received a second from Gruenberg. But the motion went down with all other commissioners voting against it.

A third option is to bond for the buildings now and then bond for highway and road projects later when the projects and budgets can be formalized. The idea is to not pay excessive interest on bonds that are going unused.

Knutson believes that the bonds for the building, with the money from them only being in use over a three-year building period, could be paid off from the revenue generated by the one-cent sales tax that was passed by county voters in November in just seven years without forcing a penalty, rather than having to be paid interest over a full ten-year period.

Other business

A grade-raise project along County Road 9 in Makoti had some issues where two property owners along the right-of-way requested larger buyouts than other property owners who had already settled. These property owners wanted $2,000 an acre for 12 acres for a total of $24,000 for the right-of-way. While some commissioners, like chairman Jack Nybakken, felt that offering a counteroffer closer to the asking price would be a good idea others disagreed.

“I don’t think we want to jeopardize the time frame,” said commissioner Alan Walter, who seconded Weppler’s motion to buy the land at asking price.