County approves bids, discusses renovations project

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Ward County Commissioners, members reviewed and approved several highway engineering projects, authorized the sale of bonds to cover expenses to be incurred throughout the building and renovations projects coming up, and received updates on their agreement with a parking lot owned by Canadian Pacific Railway.

Other obstacles to get through before the courthouse and jail expansion project gets under way were also discussed.

Road repairs

“We bid multiple locations and they have to bid within so many miles of that location,” county engineer Dana Larsen said of bidding for local gravel in the Highway Department’s yearly bids for materials. “Each one has a different pit.”

Commissioners approved the low bidders for four locations: Farden Construction was the lowest for a pit in Margaret Township, Sundre Sand & Gravel for Spring Lake and Greely Townships, and Gravel Products for Hilton Township.

Portions of both Ward County Road 8 and Ward County Road 23 were scheduled to be overlaid this year, and Larsen submitted his proposals for doing so to the commission. The projected cost of the project, which was approved for bidding by the commissioners, is almost $4.5 million.

The road was seal coated in 2006 and received spot-overlays last year but has suffered extensive damage through increased truck traffic; testing on the road revealed that there was less than two-inches of aggregate base left under the pavement.

“This project would consist of milling off the top five to six inches of asphalt. That material would then be brought back to the pit,” Larsen said. “Some of it would be blended with newer aggregate base. The subgrade would then be blended and cement stabilized so that we’d have a 12-inch stabilized sub-base.”

The project, among others, was approved for some oil impact funds at a meeting earlier in the month of the 17 oil and gas producing counties.

“Ward County was allocated basically $2.8 million of that $142 (million),” Larsen said. The $142 million has not yet passed the House in the state Legislature, but is expected to. “Our plan is to bid this, but make sure that we don’t sign any contracts until that funding has been approved by the governor.”

“That road is heavily traveled,” said commissioner Jerome Gruenberg, citing concerns for travelers during the construction. Larsen talked about the use of other county roads as alternate routes and contracting township roads where needed and that only certain sections would be worked on at any one time.

FEMA appeals

FEMA has denied most appeals submitted for funding grade raises and other projects that came about due to the flooding from 2011, reported Larsen. He had sent a letter earlier this month to state legislators that outlined the various needs for reconstruction and the programs and agencies the requests were sent to.

“What I’ve asked is if there’s anything we can do or add to our bill to help us out,” Larsen said of his letter, and also asked the commissioners to lend their voices to the requests. He had said that when FEMA first responded to requests it had seemed as though there was a possibility of having some of them funded later, but now they have given him a definitive “no” and that the funds had already been given to “other entities.”

“Long and short of it, what they said was that the sites cost a lot of money to repair, there’s not a lot of people living in that area and it’s not worth the money to fix,” Larsen said. “They’ve said they can find alternate routes … Part of it is that North Dakota is, they feel, flush with money, they’re hurting for money, and they figure we can fix it ourselves.”

“I think it’s important to get the word out on this,” said commissioner Shelly Weppler. “I think this has happened in other counties as well.”

“Not so much,” answered commissioner John Fjeldahl, and Larsen agreed with him.

Bonding

County commissioners approved a plan to sell a projected $39.08 million in bonds to make up for added costs to renovate the county office building, Ward County Jail, and Courthouse. The sales tax approved by county voters in November had not taken into account certain costs like attorneys fees. The plan was not at a detailed stage now and commissioners have a month to decide to change the amount to be bonded.

“This is kind of, from our end, the formal resolution that would authorize public financial management to prepare the documents and go out and talk to bankers and get bids,” said Scott Wegner of Arntson Stewart Wegner law firm from Bismarck. He said a more detailed resolution would be presented at their second April meeting, at which point commissioners would have to “award sale, approve the actual interest rates, and you’d approve the exact dollar amount of the bonds.”

There was disagreement over the projected amount to be bonded, with commissioner Alan Walter most uncertain over the number and how it was determined.

“I’m saying that roughly it is in the ballpark,” said Weppler. “So are you wanting to raise it by two million then?”

“Oh no, I’m just wanting to know what we’re doing here,” Walter said. “The numbers that the architect gave us prior to voting for the tax did not include contingencies, and architect fees and infrastructure, then what number do we really need?”

“This is the number that they came up with when you take the whole percentage of those fees and what his estimated draw-downs were,” said county auditor and treasurer Devra Smestad. “The architect, they have presented their draw-down to Myron (Knutson of Public Financial Management) who created this and then looking at the overall picture took into what their fees are, what council fees are, and the contingencies.”

“When we talked about the cost of this building we had not yet negotiated the architect’s fees,” Gruenberg said. “That’s when we decided we would go with a flat fee.”

Parking

A new agreement drawn up by Canadian Pacific Railway for leasing their parking lot near the courthouse while construction is under way still contains language that may allow them to adjust the rent at any time during the contract, according to Capt. Bob Barnard of the Sheriff’s Office and Roza Larson, state’s attorney for Ward County.

“Their intention was not to arbitrarily raise” the rent, Barnard said, but, instead, adjust the rent by 10 percent if an assessment is done on the property that shows it is worth more than they know it to currently be.”

“This is going to be relatively short term,” said commission chairman Jack Nybakken, although the rent adjustment condition wasn’t to anybody’s liking. “We’re not going to need this indefinitely.”

Talks are continuing with leadership at The Minot Daily News for their parking lot, which is exactly in the location the county wants to expand the jail. Initially the county had wanted to lease the CP Rail lot as a trade, but that was turned down. Then there was discussion of moving the county library and leveling that out for the newspaper, but that was also denied. Now the commission has been talking with Marshall Morgan of Morgan Printing, which shares a block with The Minot Daily News. Nothing solid has been decided about this, only that the commissioners will talk with Morgan regarding his property in the hopes of obtaining it for a trade to receive The Minot Daily News lot in return.