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Belfield, Stark County talk planning, zoning enforcement

Belfield City Attorney Sandra Kuntz proposes Stark County commissioners create a "zoning enforcer" position for Belfield and other area communities during the March 6 commission meeting at the courthouse in Dickinson.

Belfield officials want to hire someone with the chops to plan and enforce zoning codes, but county commissioners think planning is already a full-time gig.

Belfield City Attorney Sandra Kuntz spoke with Stark County commissioners earlier this month about working together to create the position.

"A zoning enforcing officer is what we're focusing on," Kuntz said. "We found out that you're looking more for a planner in general for the county. We thought this may be a very good opportunity to partner up in that regard."

Kuntz added that a "planner-zoner enforcer" would make sure citizens comply with such issues as zoning ordinances, and sewer and water hook-up requirements in Belfield and other surrounding communities.

Commissioners think planning is a full-time job, and it would be tough to also be an enforcer.

"I don't believe that a planner can be an enforcer," Commissioner Russ Hoff said.

Commissioner Jay Elkin agrees.

"That planner's going to be far too busy putting together whether or not if a particular development project fits in a particular area," Elkin said.

Kuntz thinks an enforcer would be beneficial because residents and developers are not fully aware of zoning limitations.

"(Residents and developers) get a copy of the ordinance and aren't sure what to do with that book," she said. "We end up with more enforcement problems as a result of that."

Shawn Kessel, Dickinson city administrator, said the county has a planner, and hiring another one would be a good investment.

Commissioners asked Kessel if zoning enforcement could be added to area building inspectors' responsibilities.

"It certainly could," Kessel said. "That would require hiring additional staff."

Commission Chairman Ken Zander asked if building inspectors could fill the void.

"If Mr. Kessel is saying that we can expand that, why aren't we doing that?" he asked.

Kessel said there are currently four building inspectors in the area, and Elkin added that making inspectors enforcers may be too heavy a load.

"Right now, we're just taking (zoning enforcement) on a per-call basis," he said. "That takes time."

Hoff has seen county officials take on additional responsibilities before.

"McKenzie County came before us one time, and their emergency manager was their enforcer," he said.

Kuntz said hiring an additional official to only enforce zoning codes would be beneficial for the entire county.

"I think if you were looking at a full-time planner and a full-time code enforcer for the county that you co-op with the surrounding communities, sounds like the answer, at least from the small town of Belfield's perspective and other communities."

For now, Commissioner Duane "Bucky" Wolf thinks the county should hire a planner and see if enforcement is necessary.

"We maybe should start with a planner and then go to the enforcement issue," he said. "I'm thinking that if you have a planner and things are done properly, you may not need the enforcement."

Stark County Road Superintendent Al Heiser said the county needs an enforcer.

"I can drive around this county any given day and see things that ain't right," he said. "Planning is great, but you still have to follow up the other end."

While Heiser sees a need, he understands the matter is out of his hands.

"Can I go out there and say you can't do this? I ain't got no teeth to do that," he said.

Commissioners said they appreciate Kuntz's and Kessel's insight, and will consider it as they move ahead with seeking an additional county planner.