Among the local races being decided Tuesday will be openings for the Ward County Commission, where five candidates are vying for three seats.
Incumbents Jack Nybakken and Bruce I. Christianson are both running for their second terms, while commissioner Carroll W. Erickson, who has the third open seat on the commission, has decided not to run.
The three new challengers for those seats are Shelly Weppler, Jim Lee and Alan Walter.
Christianson lives in Minot and is the CEO and general manager of Magic City Financial Group, a real estate investment business.
He cites unfinished business as to why he wants a second term on the commission, particularly in the area of flood recovery.
"I'd like to see that through," Christianson said.
The second reason has to do with property taxes, which he said the commission has been able to keep a check on.
"I'm proud of that, but more work needs to be done on that and on the reform of property taxes at the state level," he said. "I would hope to be able to work with the Legislature on getting that accomplished as a county commissioner."
Christianson also noted that in his four years on the commission, he has been able to develop a good relationship with his fellow commissioners as well as the county's department heads by achieving open, honest and respectful discussions rather than having the knock-down, drag-out fights he said happened in the past.
He said the experience he has obtained over the past four years makes him a good choice for another term. Christianson noted other experience that makes him an effective commissioner includes being on the Minot City Council for 20 years, serving on the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, including as a past president, as well as a number of other community service and professional affiliations.
"And another important thing is that I have extensive business and personal contacts through my involvement in the local business community and from living and working in the state for more than 60 years," he added. "That's what makes for a good county commissioner, I believe."
One of the tasks the commission has found particularly difficult to tackle over the years has been creating a space expansion project the voters will back. Christianson calls space expansion a need, not a want, and believes the current project on the ballot Tuesday is a good one, which all five commissioners reached a consensus on after thorough discussion and examination.
An important part of this project was how to fund it, and Christianson said the half percent sales tax is the most fair because it will involve everyone who does business in the county and uses its services.
"We looked at a number of different options, from a bill to a lease back to trying to figure out how to bond for it. And of course that goes to the property tax and the property owner," Christianson said. "When we look at the sales tax, a half a cent is what we're looking at, and everyone is eligible to contribute. And that's a good thing, that everybody gets to contribute to this expansion."
Effects from the Souris River flood of last year are still present in the county, and Christianson said working as a team with all of the agencies involved is of the utmost importance in getting Ward County back on its feet.
"I'm talking locally, I'm talking on the state level and on the federal level," he said. "It can get to be a long and arduous process, but those agencies ... bring a lot of money to the table, and we want to achieve and we want to secure those funds to help us recover with the least monetary impact to those that have been impacted."
Weppler lives between Minot and Burlington and is the executive director of the St. Joseph's Community Health Foundation.
Weppler feels it's her time to be of service to the community, which is why she wants to be on the commission.
"I grew up knowing that in order to be a part of a great community, you need to step forward and do your duty," Weppler said.
She said being a commissioner would fit in well with her with her work at the foundation, which serves an 11-county area and focuses on helping people.
"I feel as a Ward County commissioner, that's who we're looking at providing services and making sure that the infrastructure and roads are there to provide for a safe environment for all the residents to live in," she said.
She noted her well-rounded experience in a lot of different avenues makes her a good candidate for the commission. Weppler, who grew up in Minot, served in the U.S. Army in Europe as a member of the military police. She feels that experience in particular gives her a lot of valuable insight into dealing with the sheriff's department.
She has also been involved with the banking industry and has served on boards for over 30 years, as well as chaired them.
"I think everything I've done in my life has led up to this," Weppler said.
Weppler thinks the half percent sales tax for the new office building and courthouse expansion is a good proposal that is way past due considering how much need there is for more space.
"The needs that are being served are areas of need that are expanding due to our increased population," Weppler said. "I think that to reallocate the money that we're now spending on rent for the facility for social services, in excess of $325,000 a year, will be well directed to go toward the new building."
On the issue of flood recovery, Weppler said the commission needs to pay special attention to zoning requirements, to the roads that are in need and to make sure the county has its foot in the door for every available source of funding to help with flooded roads and properties.
"There is work being done right now on the buyouts. I think we need to continue to work with the buyouts as quickly as possible so that we don't leave people hanging, wondering what direction they should move.
"I'm concerned about the health and welfare of all residents in Ward County. I'm concerned about our roads, our property tax structure, and most importantly to me is the public safety," she said. "And everything leads to public safety."
Lee lives in rural Max and is a semi-retired farmer who also used to own a seed sale business. He is also a U.S. Army veteran. Lee is a former member of the Ward County Commission who lost a re-election bid in 2008. He said he hadn't given the thought of running again in 2012 much consideration until this past winter, when the issue continued to be brought up by others.
"I was getting asked five to 10 times a week to go back on," Lee said.
Lee said he was told numerous times the commission needed more rural representation, while many people who lived in town told him they wanted more conservative representation.
"They were kind of unhappy with some of the activities and actions of the current commission," Lee said. "So I guess they sort of hounded me long enough that I acquiesced and said OK, I'll give it another shot."
Lee feels he has proven over the years to represent the interests of the common person. He also points to his previous experience on the commission, and said he knows the county road system like the back of his hand.
"When you have these commissioners who live in town, very rarely if ever do they travel on the county roads," Lee said. "That's a big thing for the county, is the roads - the expenditure on the roads and the upkeep of the roads."
Lee is of two minds about the expansion project as it's presented on the ballot. He believes the jail is a lawsuit waiting to happen because of overcrowding, and should be addressed immediately. He also agrees with the commission that a sales tax rather than a property tax is the most equitable way to pay for it.
He noted tying the jail and courthouse expansion, new office building and infrastructure money together might cause some people a bit of angst, but that's not his biggest concern.
"My concern about the building is they haven't really secured parking yet," Lee said. "What they're going to be doing is bringing down 70 more vehicles from up on North Hill where social services is."
He noted when a different plan was proposed six years ago, a deal was in place with The Minot Daily News to swap the newspaper's parking lot for the Ward County Library lot, and there were also plans for a parking ramp. Both of those parking plans are not in place this time around, and Lee wonders where everyone will park if this plan passes.
"Along with that, when they expand the jail here on the north side, you're going to lose 17 more parking places there," Lee said. "So you'll have an 87 -parking-place problem, plus all the spots you're going to displace where the building is going up."
As for flood recovery, Lee realizes local officials have frustrations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies, but he said sometimes you have to make time no matter what to help flood victims recover in a timely manner.
"Sometimes you have to take time to do it ... which might mean extra meetings with FEMA people or state people or water commission people or whomever," Lee said.
Spending is another concern Lee has. He said farmland values are going up, and Ward County also raised the mill levy somewhat. He said this is having an adverse effect on Ward County's residents.
"Property tax is getting to be a real burden on a lot of people," Lee said. "In fact I've talked to people that are leaving Minot because it's gotten to be too much."
He also mentioned the county's recent salary raises, which were 9 percent for employees and 7.5 percent for department heads. Lee feels too much money is being spent on employees. He said going to a more modest 4.5 percent salary increase would have saved the county 2.5 to 3 mills, preventing the mill rate from going up.
Nybakken lives in Minot and is the service coordinator at Henry Towers. In addition, he is the current vice chairman of the commission.
Nybakken said when he ran for his first term, it was always with the thought he didn't want his involvement with the commission to end after it was up.
"I felt that it's been a real learning process this whole time, and I think I've benefited from my experience," Nybakken said. "I think that would make me, hopefully, more effective the second go-around if I would be elected."
In addition to experience, Nybakken feels his background prior to the commission is an extremely valuable asset. He was an educator for 32 years as a teacher and high school administrator and thinks his experience there prepared him well for his position as a county commissioner.
"I think I'm a team player, I think I work well with people, I'm willing to listen," Nybakken said.
Nybakken is very much in favor of the building space project. He thinks the local economy has greatly impacted Ward County and has created a tremendous need for building space.
"Just one example alone would be the jail. I think they're overcapacity on a consistent basis right now, and I don't see that situation getting any better," Nybakken said. "I think the same thing would hold true with our other Ward County offices. The demands that are being placed on our people for services is growing and growing."
He also added there is a great need for increased law enforcement personnel, as taking even the most cursory glance at those numbers shows how much the force needs to be expanded.
Nybakken said flood recovery is one of the significant ongoing challenges Ward County faces. He said that includes both flood recovery and the flood prevention plan.
"The big challenge there, of course, for flood prevention will be how it will be funded. The package we were looking at was $820 million," Nybakken said. "I would just say that we've got a lot of things yet to do and I'm sure that it's going to take time, but I think we're making progress."
Some other issues Nybakken mentioned as important include property-tax relief and retaining county employees. He said it sounds as if the state Legislature might be doing some things to help with property taxes, which would be greatly appreciated.
"I think that it's going to be an ongoing challenge and this goes back to the local economy and how it's impacted everybody," Nybakken said. "It right now has been a great challenge as far as being able to retain Ward County employees and also to be able to recruit them. We've had to make some adjustments and so forth, but it's a competitive market out there right now for the labor force."
Walter lives in Minot and retired from the City of Minot as public works director after gaining fame during the Souris River flood of 2011 with his "Boil the damn water" remark at a news conference. He currently is employed in doing engineering work by Ackerman-Estvold Engineering and Management Consulting.
Walter listed several reasons he wants to be elected to the commission. After working on the flood-control project with the city, he would like to bring his expertise on the project to the county. As an engineer, Walter wants to be sure road maintenance in the county remains on the front burner and also wants to be involved with the space needs project on the ballot Tuesday.
With all the work involving space needs and the flood recovery that has to be done in the county, Walter feels his years in engineering and government would prove to be a valuable asset to the people of Ward County should he be elected.
"When I decided to run, (I knew) it would take a lot of work," Walter said. "I have a lot of experience dealing with governmental agencies, which I think will help a lot.
"I've got lots of experience dealing with federal agencies, state agencies, dealing with issues that confront the community today," he said.
Walter is another candidate who feels the sales tax to fund the new space needs project is a good way to do it, as it gives everyone who uses the county facilities the opportunity to help pay for the upgrades and doesn't stick property owners with the entire bill.
On the subject of flood recovery, Walter feels the work done so far on the home buyouts is a good start, but more needs to happen.
"What needs to be done next is get the plan finalized so that work can start," Walter said. "I know that they're working on the plans right now, but those need to be approved by both the county and the state and possibly the (Army) Corps of Engineers."