On the Issues: Stutsman County CommissionVoters will elect two people to serve four-year terms on the Stutsman County Commission.
Voters will elect two people to serve four-year terms on the Stutsman County Commission. Mark Klose is the incumbent; David Schwartz is seeking his first four-year term after filling out the remainder of the late Doug Kaiser’s term. Nellie Degen and David Orr are also seeking the seats. The Sun asked the candidates for biographical information and posed seven written questions. Here are their written answers, limited to 150 words per question.
Why are you the best choice for the Stutsman County Commission?
Nellie Degen: I will listen to and support the ideas of the citizens of Stutsman County. We have many unresolved issues in this county like the roads and the joint library. As people know I’m very determined and persistent. I’ll do whatever it takes to reach the needs and the goals of the citizens. I’m not shy and if I have to call the governor or any government official to address any issue, I’ll do it. We need somebody who will stand up for Stutsman County. I will not run away from situation(s), I’m here to serve the citizens. I’m not afraid of hard work.
Mark Klose: As a current small business owner, I have the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with the citizens of Stutsman County. This gives me a feel of what the community is thinking as well as to receive new ideas on how to better our county. Equally important is my past experience in serving as an incumbent county commissioner with service to many committees and boards. Currently I serve on the Law Enforcement Governing Authority, Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp., Stutsman County Park Board, Stutsman County Social Service, Stutsman County Weed Control, Personnel Committee, Grievance Committee and as chairman of the commission. With this past and present experience, I have established good relationships with other political subdivisions, Governmental agencies and the citizens of Stutsman County. I have a very good understanding of the funds and operations of county government which will enable me to continue to make informed decisions as a commissioner.
David Orr: I feel I would be one of the better choices for county commissioner, as I was born and raised in Stutsman County. I grew up on a farm near Ypsilanti. I served in the Air Force and am a Vietnam veteran. Upon discharge, I returned to Jamestown and was accepted as a police officer on the Jamestown Police Department and after a period of time, became a detective sergeant. After 8 1/2 years, the county offered me a position as Stutsman County Civil Defense director and veteran’s service officer. In 1979, I was elected Stutsman County sheriff and held that position for 32 years, which brought me in contact on a daily basis with county residents and state, city and county agencies. I feel I would bring a fresh, new look from a new angle, to the operation and decision making, and duties of the County Commission.
Dave Schwartz: I don’t know that I am the best choice for the commission! That’s a decision the people have to make. I do know that two years ago when I was appointed to this position, I had the honor of completing the term of a man I had the utmost respect for. He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, and could admit sometimes he was wrong. I have done my best to do the same. I was determined to earn the confidence the commission put in me by appointing me and not to just fill a chair. I hope I have done that! I do know that besides going through a very sharp “learning curve,” and with every challenge I had to meet it has given me more confidence and made a better person out of me. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the finest people!
2. Should “crew camps” for construction workers become necessary in the Jamestown area, what should the commission’s role be in planning and/or regulating them? Explain.
Degen: The thought of crew camps bring many questions and concerns with them. It changes the elements of the community, so the County Commission needs to take a strong role in the planning and regulating of them. Out west they seem to be using mobile camps. With the housing situation Jamestown already becoming limited, we need to think outside the box. We might need to think about utilizing some of the resources we have within our community already, like the school in Spiritwood, if feasible. Their new school is opening in August 2013, so that would be available possibly by late spring. This camp would keep the workers close to their site, allowing Jamestown time to prepare for the impact.
Klose: Most if not all possible affected areas for such development will be in the political subdivisions of either city or townships which have their own zoning ordinances. I believe the county could work with these subdivisions in establishing a uniform county ordinance similar to what we have done with wind power and feedlot development. The county zoning administrator and the zoning board could develop an ordinance that would uniformly control crew camp development. The County Commission then would deny, amend or approve the proposed ordinance. The commission could also work with the construction companies to assist in proper placement as to their needs as well as local concerns. It would be my hope that enough has been learned in the western counties oil development that we could model the most successful actions.
Orr: Should crew camps become necessary, the County Commission should be involved as jurisdictions allow. The County Commission should be ready and able to assist the jurisdiction or agency involved. To be ready for this scenario, the commission should be preparing and learning from other commissioners that have been through this before and learn from the county and commission that did it properly.
Schwartz: Discussion regarding crew camps have already take place at the last zoning committee meeting which I am a member of. We have reviewed other county and city ordinances regarding crew camps and need to adopt our own. By studying other counties’ history of crew camps we can avoid some of the problems they encountered. Crew camps in this area would most likely be much shorter term than out west.
3. What, if anything, should Stutsman County be doing to plan for development?
Degen: The Stutsman County Commission, as a government entity, has the obligation of providing infrastructure. And infrastructure is defined as: things necessary (not wants or wishes) for the activity (movement) of the community like roads, schools, law enforcement, water system, sewer system, etc.
Klose: In 1986 Stutsman County created the first job development authority in the state of North Dakota. It is now what it was considered then very important that the county put major emphasis in building our tax base and creating employment opportunities for our citizens. Over the years and through these efforts, the county has been able to assist businesses with retention and expansion projects. The JSDC has also developed industrial parks either on its own or through partnerships. With the recent news of over $1 billion investment intentions by major national companies in the Spiritwood Ag Energy Park our county taxable valuation will most likely increase by 30 percent and provide employment for 150 people. Things like this don’t just happen, they require a great deal of time and energy. I would continue to support our JSDC efforts.
Orr: The commission should be involved in the total planning process from start to finish, then at some point see if it is necessary to share or hire a professional planning firm. The commission under Home Rule should start developing local ordinances to assure health and safety of the county residents.
Schwartz: Funding for infrastructure in the biggest thing. With development comes more demands on roads and utilities. Housing also become an issue. With the proposed projects in the Spiritwood Energy Park it will be a challenge to provide these. We have to work with the state, city and the township to address this.
4. A recent jail study recommends changes including staffing and security. Are you familiar with the study? What, if anything should be done based on these recommendations?
Degen: I attended the presentation of the law enforcement study. I have a big concern on how it was handled. There was no in-house input gathered. Yes, we need to follow the law, and be in compliance; however, we need to protect our law enforcement personnel. It’s my understanding that we have 29 people serving our community, yet no one listened to them. Such lack of communication, we need to provide a safe and positive environment for our county employees. I will listen to them and work with them.
Klose: As a member of the Law Enforcement Governing Authority, I am very familiar with the report. We are in the process of implementing some of the recommendations. The financial situation of our jail necessitated making changes in the way we do business. Some of the changes made include:
*Contracting out our food service will save $114,000 per year
*Modifying our shift staffing will have an estimated savings of $220,000
*Contracting out the commissary and instituting video visitation will reduce staff time requirements
*Increasing the contract prisoner rate will result in $85,000 more revenue
*Security was reviewed and adjustments were made
Orr: I am not real familiar with the recommendations. But, I do know there were some real staffing problems and may be more in the future. I also know the food situation was not good. The prisoners were preparing food for other prisoners. That is a big concern. I also am concerned about officers’ safety. When there are outbreaks in the cells, between prisoners, is there enough staff to secure the cell and prevent injury? Until I see the complete recommendations, I cannot comment further.
Schwartz: Yes, I am familiar with the study. Being on the LEC Governing Committee I have been involved from the beginning. Most of the changes involve scheduling of officers and eliminating over staffing at times to accommodate the courts. This eliminates approximately 10,000 man hours per year. Many changes to policy and procedure, plus contracting the food service and turnkey system have for the last few months shown a positive cash flow for the first time since I have been on the commission. Change is never easy, but I think we are on the right track.
5. Stutsman County had a longstanding problem of roads in dire condition. How should the commission prioritize what roads to rebuild and what roads to recycle?
Degen: You have to listen to the people; you have to allow them to be part of the decision making. I’ve heard the people; no one wants their road recycled. If this is what they want, we need to hear their solutions. As far as specifics, you know North Dakota Century Code does provide some specifics on what to use to prioritize county roads, such as planned economic development, population and traffic counts. But you know how well the county officials have applied some of these in the past; I think I can do a more equitable job in that area.
Klose: A few years back the Stutsman County commissioners did prioritize our county paved highway systems. A program called the matrix system was used. A consulting engineer assisted and some of the criteria used were traffic generators such as grain elevators and manufacturing facilities, etc., traffic counts, truck traffic, road safety, proximity to other improved roads, cost of repairs needed and general condition of the road. Each category received points and was ranked accordingly. I like a system like this because you have some reasonably accurate information to make an informed decision on. As time goes by traffic patterns and road usages change. I believe that in the near future we should review our priority list and update it.
Orr: Being familiar with most roads in the county, I see what the commission is up against. I feel that by prioritizing the roads and maintaining them, is a good start. Also, bring some roads back into use as funds allow, would be a big step.
Schwartz: Prioritizing road in the county is not an easy task. Due to the development planned roads that had a lower priority earlier suddenly become more important. We can’t ignore the other areas of the county either. Traffic counts are not always accurate, but are an important part of determining this. I am not in favor of recycling a road to gravel until it’s absolutely necessary. We have a road plan in place, but funding is way too short, and priorities have been changing recently.
6. What kind of funding mechanism could you support to pay for road construction/repair? Explain.
Degen: First, we need a plan, which needs to include short-term and long-term goals. In order to get funding you always need a plan. That’s what the County Commission discusses with the North Dakota Department of Transportation every October. We need to reallocate resources and prioritize funding before we seek any new funding from the citizen. I think of all the new revenue generated by the increased tax valuation on just agricultural property recently, why isn’t some of that being allocated?
Klose: In the past the county commissioners placed the following on the ballot:
*1972 5 mills approved
*1988 5 mill increase voted down
*1992 6 mill increase voted down
*2004 1 percent sales tax voted down
*2008 35 mill farmland and 1 percent sales tax voted down
*2010 15 mill and 1/2 percent sales tax voted down
Stutsman County has limited taxing authority and basically has two revenue sources to go to that being property tax and sales tax. As you can see from past results both have been tried and failed. I honestly believe that any new proposals need to come in the form of an initiated measure from the people.
Orr: Funding continues to be a huge problem. I feel the commission under “Home Rule” may have to look at dividing the county into districts and work with those township officers to see if they want to try a separate tax fund for the district. The response I get quite often in the city is “we pay for the repairs of the road in front of our house,” “county residents should do the same!”
Schwartz: Federal funding on an 80/20 cost share doesn’t come close to the needs we have and for 2013 will be cut to another $100,000, bringing it down to approximately $330,000/year. Leaving these funds for an extended period of time to try and build up enough to do a project can put us in jeopardy of losing them after time. With the high cost of construction, that doesn’t go very far. The last few years of flooding has drained the county’s reserves, and the public has rejected any increase on taxes for road funding. Right now our best chance for additional funding is through the state. Although it sounds promising it’s unlikely it will be enough to meet our needs! We also need to explore alternate methods of construction that cut costs but will still help improve our roads.
7. Aside from roads, what would be your greatest priority if elected to the commission? Explain.
Degen: The greatest priority is always the citizens, their safety and their welfare. I’ll be there to serve the people. I’ll do the best I can. If you have the citizens in mind when making decisions, all will fall into place.
Klose: We need to stay aggressive in our economic development efforts. By making it attractive for an existing business to expand or for new business startups we will be able to continue to build our county’s taxable valuation as well as create new employment opportunities for the citizens of Stutsman County. I think the best way to accomplish this is to continue to partner with the city of Jamestown and have a unified effort spearheaded by our economic development board. The local board is made up with elected officials as well as community volunteers giving us a wide variety of ideas as well as solutions to problems. The economic development board has a very good working relationship with the North Dakota Department of Commerce enabling us to take advantage of state-sponsored programs as well as introducing us to potential investors.
Orr: One of the greatest priorities the commission is going to face in the near future is the rapid development and growth in our area. The commission is going to have to have a “good plan and organization” and stay ahead of the rapid pace. The commission is going to have to work closely with the industries, developers and all entities involved in the building and operations of the facilities. There are also going to be many other support industries involved.
Schwartz: Although roads always seem to be top priority, every day seems to bring something new to the job. No one thing stands out above the other. Decisions regarding budgets, equipment, personal water issues, federal and environmental issues, park board problems, the LEC, and the list goes on and on. My biggest priority is to address these using the most common sense I can. (Though on federal and environmental that doesn’t always work). Most of all, have the respect of the people of the county.