STANLEY - Oil activity in Mountrail County has heightened the workload for county commissioners, prompting some residents to petition for a larger board to share the duties.
Mountrail County voters will decide a ballot measure June 12 that proposes increasing the number of commissioners from three to five.
"These guys are kind of getting overwhelmed with the amount of things coming at them with this oil," said Bert Hauge of New Town, one of the petition organizers. "There needs to be two more people just to spread the work out."
Petition gatherers needed 588 signatures and collected more than 600, Hague said. Some residents are concerned about increasing the size of government but they understand the reasons behind the measure, he said.
Current county commissioners aren't taking sides on the measure, which they view as having pluses and minuses.
On one hand, workload is an issue, said Commissioner David Hynek, Ross.
"The amount of time that we commit to the position of commissioner has increased dramatically in the last five years, and being able to spread that workload over two additional commissioners would definitely ease that burden," he said.
On the other hand, Commissioner Arlo Borud, Stanley said, the existing board has handled the workload well because they are dedicated and have had personal and work schedules flexible enough to accommodate county business. He noted a board of three can be less cumbersome and can more easily get the job done than a board of five.
Increasing the board size would alleviate the potential for decisions to be made by just two commissioners if a third is unavailable. The commission now must be careful whenever two commissioners are together, even informally, because it constitutes a quorum and could violate public meeting laws, Hynek said.
But then, there are concerns about how five districts might be implemented.
Mountrail County Auditor Joan Hollekim said districts lines would need to split cities to create districts of equal size. New Town, with 1,925 people in the 2010 census, is too large to be in its own district in a county with 7,673 people.
More districts means fewer residents in each district, which raises concerns in a small county about finding people to run for office from within the districts.
If the measure passes, state law provides that the the county commission create the five districts of equal population. If there is dissatisfaction with the redistricting, the new commission or 10 percent of voters through petition can request the county redistricting committee revise the districts.
Commissioners would be elected from within the districts, although state law does include a provision that allows for commissioners to be elected from districts but voted on at large. Ten percent of voters also can petition for election to dissolve districts and elect commissioners at large. A measure requires 60 percent approval by voters.
State law also provides that commissioners, a district judge serving the county and the county auditor jointly appoint the two new commissioners when the county board size is increased. The new commissioners would hold office until the next general election. One seat initially would be filled for two years and the other for four years to create staggered terms. Existing commissioners would continue to serve out their terms.