2014 county budget reduced by last minute grants

The 2014 Ward County budget was reduced by $167,007 after a last minute grant was awarded to the state’s attorney’s office. The grant will pay for 90 percent of the salaries of three new hires in the department for a year and a half. The 10 percent co-pay will come out of the department’s budget.

“At this time I’m happy to let you know that my grant award was awarded to me,” said state’s attorney Rozanna Larson. “It was specifically for the three positions that I asked for in my budget for 2014. It does start on Nov. 1.”

Her grant total was over $248,000 and it will continue through April 2015.

The current budget of the office will be amended to allow her to hire the three staffers requested for her 2014 to start once the grant takes effect this year.

Those staffers will be one new assistant state’s attorney, a victim-witness coordinator, and one additional office assistant.

Emergency manager Amanda Schooling was also given a grant. That grant has been a recurring one for the last several years, according to Devra Smestad, county auditor and treasurer. The money had already been expected and written into the budget as revenue to defer costs.

The Ward County Sheriff’s Department also presented four grants from the N.D. Department of Transportation for a total of $49,500, a 100 percent grant. The grants were accepted by commissioners.

Planning and zoning business

Planning and Zoning administrator Amber Turnquest was not at the meeting for undisclosed reasons, although it may be that she has been sick. Instead, county highway engineer Dana Larsen covered for her at the meeting.

A request by a Rice Lake Recreation District couple to rebuild their home in an area closer than allowed by zoning law that was heard twice by the Planning and Zoning Commission before heading to the county commissioners was sort of both approved and denied. The applicants for the variance request had presented a map of their property with two separate rectangles representing where they would like their home to be built.

The blue rectangle represented their prefered location, whereas the green rectangle represented an acceptable location where they felt their home would still not be flooded but that would require more money and construction work to build it up and out of the flood zone.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl was the only planning and zoning commissioner to vote against their prefered location, largely to keep zoning laws intact and to allow room for snow removal.

“We’re guessing and by-gollying,” said Commissioner Shelly Weppler after much discussion had been made on the variance without the applicants present. She also mentioned that she had told them that approval from the planning and zoning commission was not a “green light” on the project and that this was the final vote.

Commissioner Jerome Gruenberg motioned to approve their secondary, not prefered location and Fjeldahl seconded.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Gruenberg had said of the fact, presented by county highway engineer Dana Larsen, that a garage at a neighboring lot was actually more forward then their request and that other properties are also not as far back as they should be.

“Two wrongs may not make a right, but five wrongs make a policy,” Weppler said in response.

The motion passed with all but Weppler and Commissioner Alan Walter voting “yes.”

The commissioners also passed both building code enforcement policies resubmitted to them from the planning and zoning commission, schedules A and B. Schedule C, which has additional penalties, was retained by the commission in order for county building inspector Mike Larson to investigate penalty levels closer to those the commissioners seek.

“Apparently I single-handidly put us back in the stone age by questioning the fine schedule,” Gruenberg said of his opposition to the fines proposed in Schedule C. “I want to say that Mike (Larson) does a great job visiting with people who are applying for permits, he does a great job of dealing and trying to resolve problems without assigning fines. I know that in order to make the rules work there has to be some teeth in the law, I understand that. I never did say that there should be no fines, I just said that they were too high. Apparently Mike took that comment personally. There certainly needs to be some teeth in the law, but it doesn’t need to be shark teeth.”

Other business

Kandi K. Mikkelson, of Ryder and a former employee of the N.D. State Fair Association, and Kenneth L. Gillespie, of Minot and a current member of the N.D. State Fair board, were both appointed for the two open spots to represent the county on the North Dakota State Fair board. There were four applicants, all of which were interviewed by commissioners following the regular commission meeting.