- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Williston Herald, Williston, Oct. 9, 2016

Smaller budget reflects reality

Williams County quietly passed its 2017 budget earlier this week.

With cuts totaling nearly $700,000, it reflects the sad reality of lower oil prices and less activity throughout the oil patch. But even with that gloomy picture, it is a solid budget.

Rather than making deep cuts or requiring layoffs, it eliminates open positions, reduces expenses and defers salary increases. We believe that is prudent, because even with lower oil revenue, the county still must offer services to more people than ever before.

One increase, of more than $500,000, will cover the costs of housing Williams County inmates in other facilities while the jail is being expanded. When that project is finished, hopefully those costs can be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the heads of county departments seem to understand that until revenue increases, they will have to continue to do more with the staff they have. When revenues do rise, hopefully, departments will have found new ways to be efficient and can grow sustainably.

One issue that needs to be addressed still is that of infrastructure. There are more than $100 million in unfunded road and bridge projects for next year. The only work that will be completed if things stay as they are now is graveling and grading on some roads.

With the dark budget projections from the state, that could mean that those projects are entirely tabled, a scary prospect. The infrastructure of the county has improved enormously over the last several years, but is still inadequate for the population and traffic increases that the oil boom brought.

And even with the downturn, traffic and population remain high. If the region’s goal is to create a sustainable economy that can thrive no matter where oil prices sit, investment in infrastructure is key.

The state has both a vested interest in such an economy and a duty to the residents of this part of the state to make that happen. As legislators go into the 2017-18 biennium, they should bear that duty in mind. The state can hopefully help to ensure the future of our region with targeted investments that improve infrastructure while still maintaining a budget slimmed down by falling oil revenue.

If that proves impossible, then perhaps federal assistance can be sought for the most urgent projects. Going two years without major infrastructure work would put the county even farther behind.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Oct. 13, 2016

‘Outside’ eyes have a lot to offer

Perhaps to some, in an ideal world, administration of a city would fall into the hands of long-time locals with a good memory of the community’s history, familiarity with institutions and strong relationships with community members.

However, in reality, communities benefit from having new eyes see old challenges, find new solutions. New eyes on issues bring different experiences and new perceptions that lead to innovation and all-around progress.

Minot is already experiencing this and will experience it to a larger degree in the not-too-distant future.

Earlier this week, City Planner Robert Davis told a group to whom he was speaking that the city zoning code includes conflicting language and regulations. One can’t help but wonder how long that has been the case. One can’t help but wonder why no one addressed this before. One can’t help but wonder if it had been addressed previously if a business like The Spot downtown might not be going through the absurd difficulties it is now.

But one can see that Davis, clearly a smart and capable gentleman, brought fresh eyes to the city when he came onboard a few months ago and has quickly spotted this problem.

While they aren’t new to the community, another example is the contribution of relatively younger and/or new members of the Minot City Council Miranda Schuler, Shaun Sipma, Shannon Straight, Ben Berg and Kenton Kossan.

We will see more of this with Thomas Barry, should the city council accept the search committee’s selection of him as new city manager. All three finalists offered enthusiasm and fresh perspectives sure to benefit Minot.

Some might resist, even resent the vision and input of what are initially “outside” perspectives, but evidence points to this being a necessary component of achieving the kind of progress residents desire.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Oct. 12, 2016

911 texting could prove a lifesaver

North Dakota has taken a big step to help those facing emergencies. Now, those who need assistance can text their request.

“Text to 9-1-1,” launched by the North Dakota Association of Counties, lets people across the state text their emergency to 911 and access medical, fire and police services. This should be helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Also, someone in a dangerous situation such as a kidnapping victim may fear alerting their abductor and not want to risk a call. The ability to text will give them a way to get help.

The system isn’t perfect. Those who live near state borders may get a bounce-back, because their cellphone pinged a tower in the neighboring state, which does not have the service. So officials recommend calling when possible. When someone calls they are able to give more information about their situation which is helpful to responders.

The new service is the result of years of work.

It took about six years to set up, according to Mike Dannenfelzer, director of Central Dakota Communications. It required working with carriers, establishing the network and getting new equipment.

“It’s a partnership between the carriers, the governments to get these things accomplished,” Dannenfelzer told Tribune reporter Caroline Grueskin.

While officials don’t expect the texting service to get heavy use, it has already been tapped into. The service was officially unveiled Thursday, but it had been tested for a week. During that time two text messages were received in Fargo.

Those two messages indicate it will become a valuable service.

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