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Ward County Commission deals with weather modification ballot, auditor hiring

County commission deals with weather modification ballot, auditor hiring

Jill Schramm/MDN Ward County Commissioner Alan Walter speaks at a commission meeting Tuesday. Walter continues to push for better mail service for the Minot area.

Ward County commissioners finalized language for a weather modification ballot measure, began the hiring process for the next auditor/treasurer and adopted a new policy for civil asset forfeiture at a meeting Tuesday.

Commissioners adopted a ballot measure asking if the commission should continue its Weather Modification Authority pursuant to state law. The existing five-year authorization for the authority expires in March, and voters will decide in June whether to continue it.

Commissioner John Pietsch suggested including in the measure language indicating the purpose of weather modification is to suppress hail and enhance rainfall. State’s Attorney Rozanna Larson said the language could be presumed to bias voters, which is not allowed in a ballot measure.

The commission voted 4-1, with Pietsch opposed, to approve the ballot language.

The commission also voted to begin advertising for the position of auditor/treasurer. The county aims to fill the position by May 1, giving the new hire three months to learn the ropes under existing Auditor/Treasurer Devra Smestad before she retires at the end of August.

The county accepted a proposal from Widmer Roel, a Fargo accounting firm, to complete a comprehensive financial audit this year. Commissioner Jim Rostad argued for hiring a local accounting firm, but Chairman John Fjeldahl noted local firms do not have the expertise in house and would need to bring in auditors from other cities anyway.

The adoption of a new asset forfeiture policy comes following a change in state law. Ward County adopted a template policy from the North Dakota Association of Counties that a number of other counties are using.

Under the policy, a Ward County Asset Forfeiture Fund will be created to receive property or proceeds from the sale of property ordered forfeited by the court in a civil action. Forfeitures typically stem from criminal drug cases.

The intention, as stated in the policy, is to use funds to offset expenses for equipment, office furnishings, continuing education and assisting in investigation and case work of drug-related criminal offenses or other criminal justice matters or other uses allowed by law.

The new policy also creates a board to review spending requests of less than $2,500, up to $30,000 a year. An agency can appeal a denial to the county commission. The board will make recommendations on expense requests of $2,500 or more, with the county commission to make the final decision. Board members will include the county sheriff, human resources director and county commission chairman.

The State’s Attorney’s Office currently receives 10% of forfeiture amounts. The remainder is divided with 30% going to each member of the Drug Task Force: the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ward County Sheriff’s Office and Minot Police Department.

In other business, Commissioner Alan Walter reiterated his intent to pursue better mail service for the Minot area.

“I have gotten a number of complaints. I get them all the time. Nothing has changed,” said Walter, who wrote to the Congressional delegation of his concern or late or missing mail last year. His comment was prompted by the county’s receipt of correspondence dated Jan. 23, postmarked Feb. 10 after being mailed in Minot and received Feb. 14.

The commission also adopted a policy for distribution of commemorative centennial coins to recognize employees for years of service. Bronze coins would recognize 10 years, silver coins 20 years and gold coins for retirement of employees who have served 20 years or more. Commissioners would receive a bronze coin upon completion of one four-year term, a silver coin after two terms and gold coin after three or more terms.

Ward County has hundreds of the coins remaining from those sold during the county’s centennial celebration in 1986. Coins also were enclosed in a time capsule buried in 1986. The county is having a shadowbox built to display a set of coins in the county office building.

Additionally, the state’s takeover of county social services and the creation of human service boards has left Ward County commissioners questioning how human service bills should be handled. The five-member, appointed human service board includes three commissioners but acts in an advisory capacity in approving bills. Commissioners debated whether bill payment should ultimately be authorized by the commission.

The commission voted to investigate how other counties are handling the billing and to inquire about how county carryover funds for social services, now mixed with state funds for human services, should be handled.

The commission will be closely following the building maintenance situation following a report from Facilities Manager Leona Lochthowe regarding several issues, particularly related to the new jail expansion. Lochthowe said the project manager, Adolfson & Peterson, continues to assist the county despite the expiration of the project warranty period. She said concerns, such as a leaky roof, aren’t necessarily unusual because the county office building had a similar problem.

Issues with the new jail include a need to redo plumbing, copper pipe and valves in certain areas because of bad soldering. An air/dirt separator tank also is leaking and needs replacement.

The facility report also indicated new jail windows weren’t designed to close when outside temperatures are below freezing, causing the windows to get stuck open and create heating issues throughout the new jail.

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