Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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Top Democratic-NPL Party lawmakers called Thursday for an audit of the state’s contracts with Bismarck-based Odney Advertising after reports that the firm emailed “suggested talking points” for state officials to use when responding to questions about Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger’s leave of absence for alcohol treatment.
Claudia Berg, a 33-year employee of the State Historical Society and coordinator of the nearly completed $51.7 million expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center, was picked Wednesday to lead the agency after current Director Merl Paaverud retires Nov. 14.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger got permission Wednesday to move more money into his budget for overtime and temporary staff as his office continues to experience what he called “unprecedented” demand for services brought on by North Dakota’s thriving economy.
A $3 million grant approved Wednesday from North Dakota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund could mean more than $38 million in incentives for farmers, ranchers and landowners to remove environmentally sensitive land from production, officials said.
A member of the State Historical Board said she’s “challenged to reconcile” how a search committee that was directed to forward three finalists for interviews for director of the State Historical Society ended up advancing only two finalists – both internal candidates – despite more than 40 applicants for the position. The 12-member board is scheduled to interview the two finalists Wednesday. Claudia Berg, coordinator of the nearly-completed $51.7 million expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center, and Museum Division Director Chris Johnson are in the running to replace current Director Merl Paaverud when he retires in November after 13 years. Emails and meeting minutes obtained by Forum News Service through an open records request demonstrate how some board members intended to hire from within the Historical Society’s walls from the outset.
The largest single appropriation of state funding for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project was released Monday with a unanimous vote of the State Water Commission. State lawmakers included $100 million in the water commission’s 2013-2015 budget to support the $1.8 billion diversion project, after having previously appropriated $45 million during the 2009 session and $30 million in 2011. Commission members on Monday approved the additional cost-share dollars that will help fund nearly $211 million in diversion program costs budgeted for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1, Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.
Campaign advisor Odney Advertising provided talking points for officials in the North Dakota tax commissioner’s office and governor’s office to use when responding to questions related to Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger’s decision to take a leave of absence for alcohol treatment, email records show. In a Sept. 5 email titled “Suggested Talking Points re: Ryan Rauschenberger,” former tax commissioner Cory Fong – who left the office Dec. 31 to take a job with Odney, leading to Rauschenberger’s appointment by Gov. Jack Dalrymple – laid out answers to several anticipated questions about Rauschenberger’s absence. One question related to how much work Rauschenberger had missed over the past several weeks and months due to his treatment and condition.
The trend of North Dakotans being forced to leave their homes because of skyrocketing rents and the state’s lack of affordable housing – especially in oil-impacted areas – will get worse before it gets better, an attorney said Wednesday during a housing forum here. Richard LeMay, litigation director for Legal Services of North Dakota, said the percentage of applications for legal assistance related to housing issues has increased from 20 percent before the current oil boom began in 2008 to about 60 percent today. Evictions in Williams and Ward counties have risen sharply based on court records, LeMay said. He predicted Minot will become “the next battlefield” for affordable housing as rising rents, taxes and cost of living drive both renters and fixed-income homeowners out of Williston.
A homebuyer assistance program launched in 2002 as a way to entice people to move to North Dakota has been expanded to help more state residents become homeowners. The North Dakota Roots Program originally required borrowers to have lived out of the state for at least one year before establishing residency in North Dakota. They also had to work at least 20 hours per week and buy a home within their first year of employment in North Dakota. Under program changes approved by the state Industrial Commission on July 29, any North Dakota household earning up to 140 percent of the area median income can access the affordable interest rate loans and down payment and closing cost assistance offered by the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, which administers the program.
While criticizing a ballot measure that would divert millions of dollars in North Dakota oil tax revenue into a conservation fund, House Majority Leader Al Carlson said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would spend $30 million to $50 million to enhance parks and other recreational opportunities. Carlson, R-Fargo, mentioned the bill during a GOP luncheon Tuesday in Bismarck as an alternative to Measure 5, a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. If approved, the measure will create a conservation fund and trust that would receive 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction tax revenue for the next 25 years.