Commission changes auditor to appointed position

Meetings moved from first Tuesday
to first Monday
GRAFTON – It’s official, the office of Walsh County Auditor is now an appointed rather than an elected position. The Walsh County Commissioners in their first meeting of the New Year voted unanimously voted to make the change.
Although people in Walsh County voted four years back in a special election to keep the Auditor position elected, commissioner Luther Meberg said it was time for the change.
Allen Ruzicka made the motion to make the change, it was seconded by Karen Anderson and it passed unanimously in a role call vote with all members including Jack Karas, Ernie Barta, Ruzicka, Anderson and Meberg all voting in favor.
Ruzicka said all of the public notification requirements including having the notification published in the paper and holding two public meetings had been fulfilled.
Meberg said there have only been a few competitive races for auditor in the past several decades noting the last competitive vote was in 2002 when former auditor Sharon Kinsala defeated Colleen Vincent for the position. Deputy auditor Kris Molde was appointed by the commissioners to fill Kinsala’s position when she retired in March.
“If you have only one or two competitive races in the past 50 years, what are we taking away from the voters?,” Meberg asked.
He also said making the county auditor an appointed instead of an elected position was a suggestion made by the state’s county improvement study conducted 30 years ago. Meberg said it will also take away any perceived conflict of interest during future elections since the county auditor is in charge of tallying election results.
In other action items the commissioners passed a motion to officially move their first meeting of the month to the first Monday instead of the first Tuesday at 9 a.m. That request came from Meberg who has been running into a conflict with attending meetings on the first Tuesday of each month.
Meberg was elected to the Nodak Rural Electric Cooperative Board in 2013. That board meets on the first Tuesday of each month. Meberg said that when he was elected to the Nodak board, it was his understanding that there would be some flexibility to change their meeting date, but that hasn’t been the case.
The commissioners first discussed the possibility of moving the first meeting of the month from the morning to the afternoon but decided there were too many conflicts.
Commission Chairman Ernie Barta said the feedback that he’d gotten from various people was to keep the meeting in the morning.
Meberg expressed concern that if the meeting time wasn’t changed he’d have to consider not running for re-election because it wouldn’t be fair to those who voted for him.
“If there isn’t any flexibility I won’t run again,” he said. “A little flexibility is all I’m asking for.”
After much discussion the commission decided to switch the first meeting of each month to the first Monday instead of Tuesday, but keep the meeting time at 9 a.m.
Anderson made the motion to make the change. It was seconded by Ruzicka and passed via a unanimous voice vote.
In other business
the commission:
• Voted to keep the county’s tobacco policy unchanged for at least the next year and then revisit the issue. Stacy Langen, Walsh County’s new tobacco prevention coordinator spoke with the commissioners and she would like to see the county’s tobacco policy progress to no tobacco use at all including no smoking in personal vehicles on county property or in designated smoking areas. The current policy adopted last year allows for smoking under those conditions.
Langen said the state is striving to change the norm when it comes to smoking and she’d like to see the county follow suit.
Langen was given the go-ahead to expand the county’s wellness program. Langen said she would like to make wellness activities available to county employees on a monthly basis. Participation in the activities would not be mandatory, but if employees meet participation goals, the reward would be an eight hour paid personal day.
She said wellness activities could include attending CPR and first aid classes, blood donations, blood pressure checks and a “lunch and learn” similar to what employees at the Life Skills and Transition Center currently participate in.
• Passed motions to amend some department budgets. The commissioners amended the highway department’s Highway Distribution Budget in the amount of $242,992.28 and the County Road Budget in the amount of $8,075.39. Walsh County Highway Superintendent Sharon Lipsh pointed out that both of the budgets still had positive year-end balances.
The commissioners also amended the Social Services Budget. Social Services Director Twila Novak said her department was over budget by $103,692.32. She also said reimbursements came in higher than expected, $56,734.23 over what was projected. Novak said the major overages included employee benefits and the addition of one new employee. She said insurance premium costs rose and some employees switched from single policies to family policies.
• Was informed by Tax Equalization Director Mary Wild that the average price of land per acre will be rising from $781.12 to $909.62. That reflects a 16 percent increase for both crop and non-crop acres.
The next meeting of the Walsh County Commission is scheduled for Tuesday Jan. 21 at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners Room at the Walsh County Courthouse.

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