North Dakota State Auditor Josh Gallion is not afraid to ask hard questions, ruffle feathers or step on political toes. His recent audits of state agencies and higher education institutions have earned him media attention, criticism and attempts by the legislature to reign him in. Like him or hate him, he uses his office to look hard at government spending practices and to call out irregularities – sometimes loudly.
North Dakota needs Auditor Gallion to direct his attention to the FM Diversion, more specifically the Cass County Joint Water Resource District. Over the past nine years the Cass County Joint Water Resource District has, on behalf of the FM Diversion, spent approximately 248 million state and local tax dollars. Of this, approximately $132 million went to the 100-home city of Oxbow, North Dakota, including $32 million paid out to the privately owned Oxbow Golf and Country Club. The $32 million was purportedly to mitigate or pay for damages that would be caused to the golf course by construction of the FM Diversion. The entire Oxbow Golf course, however, was valued at only $1.3 million dollars, according to the Cass County Assessor in 2010, immediately before this gravy train started rolling. How does that work?
The private golf course payoff is only part of the story. The CCJWRD wrote checks for home buyouts in Oxbow that were 400-500 percent of assessed value. We would encourage Auditor Gallion to read the sordid tale of two Oxbow buyouts at http://fmdam.org/defending-richland-and-wilkin-counties-july-16th-2015/ to get a feel for how the CCJWRD distributes the state and local taxes dollars entrusted for Fargo flood protection.
The ND State Auditor has the legal authority to audit counties, cities and water resource districts every two years, “ . . . or at the discretion of the state auditor for alleged improprieties.” NDCC Section 54-10-13. Auditor Gallion could also lawfully audit the financial dealings of any political subdivision, including the CCJWRD, by order of the governor or upon order of the North Dakota Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. Since Gov. Burgum was instrumental getting the whole FM Diversion altered to move his personal residence from the wet side to the dry side of the Diversion, his order seems unlikely.
The North Dakota legislators who sit on the legislative audit committee might be more interested, as the state tax dollars being spent by the CCJWRD were given by the legislature to provide permanent flood protection for Fargo, not to grease the political palms of the owners of an exclusive golf course located 20 miles south of Fargo.
JPA Editorial Team