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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 26 2011

Cass County speeds up auction of buyout homes

Cass County is speeding up the process to auction off about 25 home buyouts with hopes of making the properties available to move out before a possible spring flood.

The auction will likely take place before Feb. 15, just three weeks after the Cass County Buyout Committee decided Tuesday to proceed with the sale.

In the past, the process to set up an auction has taken 30 to 40 days, said Irv Rustad, executive director of Lake Agassiz Regional Council, which organizes the county’s auctions.

The county will set a date for the sale after meeting with auctioneers and post a web link to the properties on Cass County’s website, said County Engineer Keith Berndt.

Levee construction and other flood preparations will take priority over moving purchase homes out, so some properties may have a disclaimer of sorts if purchased, Berndt said.

The homes up for auction are part of the latest round of buyouts purchased over the past few months through a Federal Emergency Management Agency program, he said.

The county has acquired 80 homes since 2009’s record flood, including about 15 still in negotiations, Berndt said.

He identified more than 20 additional properties in the Chrisan and Forest River neighborhoods south of Fargo that the county should consider acquiring for long-term flood protection.

But most of those new buyouts are probably not feasible before this spring’s flood, Berndt said. Appraising, finalizing the sale and moving out any newly bought homes before a spring flood is a tight timetable, he said.

Cass Commissioner Ken Pawluk said trying to buy out more homes by spring isn’t realistic.

“If we had the funds, it would be one thing,” he said. “And the timeline is just so short.”

The county doesn’t currently have adequate cash flow to purchase all of the additional homes, said County Auditor Michael Montplaisir.

“We’re becoming cash poor because of the last two floods,” he said.

The commission could decide to use new sales tax dollars, but funds wouldn’t be available until June, Montplaisir said. The countywide tax goes into effect on April 1.

The state has remaining funds from a FEMA buyout program, but rules require homes to be damaged beyond 50 percent of their value, Rustad said.

Cass has spent more than

$14.6 million on acquiring homes since the 2009 flood. The county’s share of that total is about $1.9 million, with the majority of the money coming through FEMA buyouts programs and another $1.8 million from state funds, according to a county auditor’s office document.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511