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Just the facts: Fact checking the Bowman City Commission President Candidate Forum

Some were true. Some, not so much. We fact check some of the answers candidates provided during the city commission president forum.

Incumbent Bowman City Commission President Lyn James, left, and City Commissioner Chuck Whitney, right, answer questions during a candidate forum hosted May 19 by the Bowman County Pioneer. (Pioneer Photo by Nate Lee)

Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

We pick some of the biggest questions and most important answers from the Bowman City Commission President Candidate Forum, held by The Bowman County Pioneer on May 16, and double-check the facts stated by the candidates, Lyn James and Chuck Whitney.

Here’s what we discovered. (Watch a replay of the forum here)

“The industrial park is a very important piece of our future here in Bowman and I truly believe in that. Any time you have a project such as that, it takes many years for it to fill. … We can’t expect within five years that we’ll have it full, maybe not even 10 years. But we also have to have an area that is shovel ready.” – Lyn James

The Bowman Gateway Industrial Park is by no means the first such project in North Dakota. The city of Stanley, in the northwest part of the state, established its own industrial park within the last decade, according to Denny Kesterson, Stanley’s planning and zoning administrator. Per his estimation, the businesses filled up the space rather quickly and presently there are only one or two sites left for sale. Industrial businesses such as concrete companies, truck repair facilities and oil suppliers filled the park. Kesterson said, despite the downturn in oil activity, it’s remained quite stable over the years.

“In terms of places where this money could better be used, something that is an elephant in the room, and nobody wants to face it, is the quality of our drinking water. What we deal with in terms of sodium levels and other mineral levels right now are in the barely acceptable range. There are people with health issues in our community who would perhaps be better served if we were to look at something, for example, an industrial grade reverse osmosis system. I have several colleagues in the Lions group in Canada who have done this; it doesn’t have to be a multimillion dollar thing.” -Chuck Whitney (On surge funding spent for industrial park)

The city of Bowman’s water quality is a topic that rears its head every so often. Many locals consider and tourists the water to be hard, and it stains sinks and porcelain bathtubs over time. However, the water is thoroughly tested every year by the N.D. Dept. of Health. Each year the water meets levels deemed acceptable. The annual water testing results are posted by the city each year in The Pioneer and available at Bowman City Hall. Considering a reverse osmosis system for the entire city of Bowman, a similarly sized town in Minnesota created water treatment system that utilizes the reverse osmosis process. It was built in 1998 in the city of Madison, Minn. The cost of the total project—including the new water tower, wells, and mains—was approximately $2.9 million and was funded by a $2.3 million Rural Utilities Service loan from the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture and a grant from the Minnesota Dept. of Trade and Economic Development of $600,000, according to the Minnesota Dept. of Health. The total amount of surge funding allocated by the city of Bowman for the industrial park was about $1.85 million. Remaining surge funds, being held by the city to ensure current projects are fully funded in case they come in over budget, totals between $600,000 to $700,000.

“You say you were opposed to spending the money for that project, however you did make the first motion to fund it at that location for $1 million.” – Lyn James (To Whitney regarding vote to approve industrial park project)

According to the official published minutes of the Dec. 1, 2015 regular meeting of the Bowman City Board of Commissioners, it was noted that Whitney first made a motion to fund the industrial park, at its current location, for $1 million. It would have allocated the funds for water, sewer and a gravel roadway as needed for the first phase of the project. James asked three times for a second, but the motion died for a lack of a second. An amended motion was then made by Commissioner Darren Limesand to fund the industrial park for not in excess of $1.85 million. That figure included contingencies set by the engineer. If not used, those contingency funds would return to the city. That motion was seconded by Commissioner Darrell West and it passed 3-2, with Whitney and Commissioner Mike Sondeland voting against it. (Whitney requested at the following meeting that further comments be added to his statements, including that “there are other locations near to and inside the city limits that are better ground for an industrial park.”)

“We did work hard to keep the budget as level as we could. The elephant in that room, unfortunately, is that games have been played with the values of our homes. Some of this we have no control over.” -Chuck Whitney

The Bowman County Board of Commissioners hired an independent, third party company to come into the county in 2012 and reevaluate property values. The city commission has no control over decisions made by the county.

“When you look at the size of the budget, it hasn’t changed very much over the last three or four years. That is the part where it has been a group effort to try and control costs. Is it higher than it was 10 years ago? Absolutely. Are your taxes higher than they were 10 years ago? Absolutely. … Since I’ve been on the commission, I’ve begun to appreciate (Lyn’s) example that our street lights—just one item on our budget that we pay for on a monthly basis—we take those for granted. No, I don’t think it’s a function that we’re literally thinking in terms of raising your taxes and spending more money.” -Chuck Whitney (On city spending)

It was said by Whitney at the start of the forum, in his opening statement, that he believed the city was spending too much. In this answer, which was a rebuttal to a question posed to James, he seemed to sidestep his original comments about his opponent leading a board—on which Whitney has sat for the last four years—that spends too much. Since any time money is allocated for city projects, etc., it requires a majority vote of the commissioners, which means his opponent wouldn’t be the single reason for an increase in spending. Whitney did, however, acknowledge the increased spending in a follow-up question’s response: “The impression has to be that we’re spending more money.”

“I feel that taxation should always be a question for the people. I voted against the tax, I did not vote against the issue itself.” -Chuck Whitney

As city commissioner Whitney cast a vote during a city meeting in 2014 in opposition of putting the question on the public ballot of increasing the city’s sales tax by one penny in order to build a new recreation center. Ultimately it was placed on the ballot and defeated. Still, Whitney was adamant that he did not vote against placing the question on the ballot, but that he voted against the actual project. No votes were ever held by the city, concerning the most recent effort to create a new recreation center, besides Bowman Parks Director Chanell Walby’s request that the matter be placed on the public ballot in the following election.

“If our community was interested in revisiting it, certainly. I’m always open to whatever the community wants to talk about. I don’t believe that it’s even realistic at this point because I don’t believe they’re taking on any more users… We wouldn’t be able to hook up.” -Lyn James (On the possibility of hooking up the city to Southwest Water Supply)

According to Southwest Water Supply Manager and CEO Mary Massad, the western North Dakota water supplier would be able to hook up the city of Bowman, if it were interested. In fact, Massad said they had originally built in a capacity for Bowman, should it ever want it. She noted that she’s not sure how much of that capacity is left. Still, Massad said there are a lot of misconceptions but that a hookup to the service for the city of Bowman would be possible at anytime.

“If there’s one reason a business fails … it’s because of a lack of capital. Unfortunately we do not have that in our [inaudible] pockets to give. The other thing that I saw some years ago that our Chamber was doing, I don’t think it’s been doing recently, is some enterprise classes. There are people in our community who might very well be able to start up a business.” -Chuck Whitney

While capital is a big reason for businesses to close, the Bowman County Development Corp. has made available multiple programs that could potentially aid struggling businesses, such as micro loans and interest buy-down programs. The Small Business Development Center in Bowman also is available to help, working as a facilitator to familiarize to procure regional, state and national programs to further provide assistance when it’s needed. In addition, the Small Business Development Center has hosted a number of breakout courses for the community on a variety of aspects related to business management, customer service, finance and leadership. The most recent of which was held this month.

“I said to this man at that time [Chuck Headley], if this were up to me, and it’s not.” -Chuck Whitney (On a comment that he, if elected commission president, would fire city employees)

The president of the Bowman City Board of Commissioners cannot solely terminate an employee. A majority vote of the entire board is required in any hiring or firing decisions. Following the special election for the city board in 2013, rumors began circulating around the city that led city employees to react with fear of losing their jobs with a change in commissioners. Some members of the public have publicly alleged that the same thing would happen after the current election. However, it would be up to the full board, not just one commissioner.

“We have worked tirelessly talking about the last four years to keep our taxes at a level playing field. Valuation is something that plays into how taxes are figured and our city valuation in 2012, which is the first year that Commissioner Whitney came on board, was a total of $3,779,734. In 2015, it was $4,846,234. And so you see that valuation going up, which helps us keep things a little more level. Some is reassessment because of the value of the properties being sold, some of it has to do with new properties coming on to the tax rolls.” -Lyn James

The city’s valuation was set by an independent, third party company hired by the Bowman County Board of Commissioners to come into the county in 2012 and reevaluate property values. That decision was made because the county’s valuation ratio was out of compliance with the state. The city commission had no control over that decision. As valuations increase and new properties are added to the city’s tax rolls it is possible taxes increase. For example, if the city’s total valuation is $4.7 million that means its mill levy is worth $4,700. If the budget is kept level and that mill amount remains the same, from one year to the next after an increase, city property taxes would actually go down since it takes less mills to equal the dollar amount. If the city keeps the mills the same, then taxes might go up since the mill is worth more. When a resident of the city receives their tax bill, there are many different taxing entities listed, including the school, the county, the city parks and recreation department. Just because the city might have kept its budget level from the previous year, that doesn’t mean the other entities did.

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