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Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, Published November 24 2013

ND’s smallest county building $4M courthouse – without raising taxes

AMIDON, N.D. – With large machinery rearranging dirt on a plot of land for a new courthouse just feet away Tuesday, Slope County Auditor Lorrie Buzalsky said she hopes the facility will last as long as the current building where she works.

“Although it’s been remodeled a number of times, this building has been here since 1917,” Buzalsky said. “Hopefully, the new one will be here for another hundred years. Everybody here is really excited.”

Construction began Monday for the 2,900-square-foot facility, which Buzalsky said will allow the county to administer jury trials. There is currently no place for a jury in the space North Dakota’s least-populated county uses as a courtroom.

The new courthouse is expected to be move-in ready in September.

While it will be a vast improvement over the county’s rickety old digs, the real payoff for the county’s 758 residents – at 30 residents, Amidon is the state’s smallest county seat – might be that it will be constructed without raising anyone’s taxes. The

$4 million project will be completely paid for with money the county already has, Buzalsky said.

“That was going to be a sticking point,” Buzalsky said. “But this will be paid for with money from our general fund and from some mineral royalty funds.”

Slope County Commissioner Scott Ouradnik said the county needs the new facility.

“It will be an improvement for both the employees and the people they serve,” Ouradnik said. “The current facility is outdated in many ways. The electrical work is outdated, there’s only one set of restrooms for a three-level facility, the foundation is crumbling and the old boiler system is dysfunctional. And that’s not to mention that the building fails to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.”

Though it was a long-term need, Ouradnik said the county only moved forward with the planning process once it was determined the new building could be erected without calling on county citizens for additional money.

“From the beginning of our discussions, we made that a priority,” Ouradnik said.

“We didn’t want to increase taxes to build the new courthouse. With the onset of new oil exploration in Slope County, I feel that the increased space will help facilitate the increased requirement for working space that accompanies oil activity.”

As state leaders continue to say southwest North Dakota counties south of Interstate 94 could be the next boom area in the state’s oil-extraction scene, Slope County Sheriff Pat Lorge agreed that the new facility will be welcome.

“We’re building for the future,” Lorge said. “If the oil fields move south, we need to be ready. We’ll have three offices for our staff where we have just one now. We’re going to be happy to get some more room.”

Lorge – who began as the county’s sheriff in 1987 – added that the county facility will have garage space for sheriff’s office vehicles, something the department has never enjoyed.

“I hope the new courthouse will be a source of pride for Slope County residents,” Ouradnik said. “We’ll have meeting rooms to allow county boards the space they need to conduct business in a professional environment.”