Richland commission halts courthouse-law center project

Richland County is presently not moving forward with plans to construct a central point of entry between the county courthouse and adjacent law enforcement center in Wahpeton. The project, proposed for security, is being halted in the face of higher costs and shifting priorities.

Citing a changed economic situation, the Richland County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday, Nov. 2 to presently not move forward with a project affecting two county buildings.

In 2020, the commissioners approved accepting a $628,115.18 grant to partially fund the construction of a central point of entry for both the Richland County Courthouse and adjacent Richland County Law Enforcement Center. The county also planned to augment the grant and available funding by levying one mill for approximately four years in order to complete the project, which had an estimated cost of $1.2 million in April 2020.

Richland County’s plans are impeded by at least two factors: higher costs since the estimate and the January 2021 destruction by fire of the county highway department’s shop in Hankinson. As per the motion, the grant is being given back to its administrators, the Court Facilities Improvement Advisory Committee.

“I’d like to support the whole concept of connecting these buildings,” Commissioner Rollie Ehlert said. “I think we can do a much smaller version of what we were looking to. I think those costs came in so much higher than anyone was anticipating. The reality was it was considerably more, almost double than what was projected.”

Scaling the project down would not lead to significant savings, according to Commissioner Nathan Berseth.

“If we scale it down by 20 percent, we’re going to see a 5 percent savings,” Berseth said. “I fully support the project as it sits. The timing is just awful between the building costs, the shop that burned down and paying for (the shop).”

Commissioner Sid Berg agreed, saying costs associated with the fire and the shop replacement were also higher than expected.

“How deep of a hole do we want to dig this county into?” Berg asked.

Reiterating his support for the project, Berseth also said it was possible that Richland County could return to it in 2022 or beyond.

“That will bode well for us, that we gave back $628,000 that we were once obligated (to use),” Berseth said. “We’ll have a higher priority. We’ve done that before to counties that have turned money back.”

Commissioner Perry Miller asked if the grants were offered annually. Berseth said they were and that he didn’t expect they would soon no longer be available.

“We just have to be careful not to spend money just to spend money. It actually has to deliver something of value to the employees and people in the county,” Miller said.

In other news, Commissioner Tim Campbell briefly spoke on the need for more foster parents in a human services zones including Richland, Ransom and Sargent counties, North Dakota.

“Especially further west, in the smaller communities, they’re really having a hard time,” Campbell said. “Some of those families have almost a school full of kids (to care for).”

More information on foster parenting is available by contacting the RSR Human Service Zone office at 413 Third Ave. N., Wahpeton, or by calling 701-642-7751. The office is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and is directed by Lynn Flieth.

Richland’s commissioners met less than a week before the scheduled Monday, Nov. 8 commencement of a special North Dakota Legislature session. Politicians are expected to address redistricting, the allocation of nearly $1.1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars that North Dakota will receive, vaccine mandates and critical race theory.

Under the final maps approved by the 2021 interim redistricting committee and pending the legislature’s approval, North Dakota District 25 would include all of Richland County and the southeastern portion of Sargent County. The district currently includes eastern Richland County and the southern portion of Cass County.

District 26 includes much of western Richland County and portions of Ransom, Sargent and Dickey counties. Pending legislative approval, the western portion of District 26 would be redistricted among districts 24 and 28.

“Redistricting occurs once every 10 years, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to get it right,” House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, Dem-NPL-District 44, stated previously.

The commissioners’ next meeting will be held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16 at the county courthouse, 418 Second Ave. N. in Wahpeton.

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