Townships in tough spot

Townships owe Stutsman County $1.4 million this year, largely due to high water, and the problem has become so prevalent the county has appealed to the governor for help.

Townships owe Stutsman County $1.4 million this year, largely due to high water, and the problem has become so prevalent the county has appealed to the governor for help.

"On behalf of the Stutsman County Board of Commissioners and residents of Stutsman County; we would like to bring to your attention the tremendous financial burden that has been placed on our county since 2009 as a result of incessant annual flooding," wrote Mark Klose to Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

"We respectfully request any consideration you and the legislature may be able to provide in this upcoming legislative session," Klose added.

The commission unanimously voted to send Klose's letter to Dalrymple at its meeting Thursday.

The debts of the townships to the county have increased by 27 percent in a single year, as townships have continued to be financially stressed with road repairs stemming from the high water.


Townships owe the county money for various reasons, said Casey Bradley, who officially became the county's auditor/chief operating officer at the end of the commission meeting Thursday.

For example, Woodbury Township owes the county $101,470.37 -- about $80,000 of which is for gravel.

"It isn't that the townships are shirking their duty. They aren't really trying to disregard paying the bill," said Dale Marks, commissioner.

They just don't have the money, after experiencing high water every year since 1993.

Township roads qualify for emergency funding at reimbursement rates of 90 percent federal, 7 percent state and 3 percent local. After so many years of flooding, there simply isn't money left in the township coffers to pay the county back.

Most of the townships are already taxing right up to their levy limits, and cannot raise property taxes further to pay the county back.

"I bet if you talked to every farmer in the county and asked 'Are you willing to pay a dollar more per acre for your roads?' they'd say yes," said Noel Johnson, who served as chief operating officer until Bradley was named auditor/COO at the end of Thursday's meeting.

However, should the levy be raised, part of that money would go to other tax authorities, including the school districts and county, Johnson said.


"The authority has to go back to Bismarck. And farmers are willing to pay, but they can't pay, because everybody else has got to get a piece of the action," Johnson said.

A township could attempt to bond for the money, but the bonding process alone would cost about $40,000.

"If there would be any possibility of the state's assistance in providing additional monies... this funding would certainly improve the liquidity of the county and townships as well as the long-term viability of our public infrastructure," Klose wrote to Dalrymple.

The only township that doesn't owe the county money is Weld Township, with Lyon Township owing just $266.50. All other townships owe Stutsman County more than $1,000 each.

The question of what could be done was asked at Thursday's meeting of the commission, when a longtime Wadsworth Township board member requested a $10,000 loan for road repairs.

"I've been on this board for 36 years. I'm steadily seeing the damages go up, the cost is increasing, and then you wonder why (Wadsworth Township) is $62,000 in debt," said Gerald Gust. "Maybe I've done it wrong, but I'm proud of what we've done."

Gust's township has a road that's underwater, and the board hasn't learned yet how much help the Federal Emergency Management Agency will offer. Meanwhile, the road remains underwater during the critical harvest season.

"People use this road every day," Gust said. "My hands are tied. I feel like a fool. I don't know what to do."


In other news Thursday, the commission:

* discussed an ongoing dialogue between Spiritwood Township and Stutsman County regarding making Great River Energy Road, west of Spiritwood, a county road. The road is currently gravel but would become concrete.

* approved a request from Gavilon Fertilizer for a five-year tax exemption, for a 19,500 short ton liquid fertilizer facility, adjacent to the company's existing dry fertilizer facility. The land will continue to be taxed as usual, but the company will pay no taxes for the new facility.

* approved a request for a tax abatement for Richard C. Colbert, after land sank and a building's foundation was destroyed, decreasing the property's value by $22,000.

* addressed landowner Clarice Liechty's questions about an emergency drain that ended up moving water onto Liechty's property in Courtenay Township and cutting off access to a field there.

The drain was meant to get water off a road, and as soon as it came to the county's attention that it was crossing Liechty's land, the county tried to address the problem.

"There was no intention of ever dumping water on your land," said Dave Schwartz, commissioner. "We apologize for it."

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at

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