Growth stimulates city code updates
As western North Dakota continues to grow, some communities in the area are looking at ways to help bring them into the 21st century.
Though not encountering all of the issues of a Williston, Watford City or Dickinson, many communities have been going through changes as the scope of the Bakken energy play continues to grow.
Staying on top of things with small staffs and budgets can be challenging, but some towns have been receiving some help from the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council for Development, a quasi-public non-profit resources advocate.
Jim Parke of Roosevelt-Custer is heading up a project that has the organization working with a handful of communities to update a variety of standards, from pet ordinances to fines.
"Over the years, there are a lot of things that have been put in books and none of it has been digitized," Parke said. "Sometimes pages go missing or are lost and other things need to be updated with the North Dakota Century Code, which has been revised several times since many of these rules went into effect."
Parke said Roosevelt-Custer is working with the cities of South Heart, Sentinel Butte, Scranton and Rhame in an effort to update certain codes and place the rule sets into digital archives that can be easily navigated.
"We basically take a code that was developed by the North Dakota League of Cities, called a model code, and (are) integrating the city's ordinances into the model code," Parke said. "In the past, cities have been enacting ordinances for specific purposes, such as for unlicensed dogs and cats. The code is a single ordinance, but it encompasses everything. It will be one ordinance instead of 50 and it will be digital, which will make it easier to look things and to make changes."
Along with standards for pets, the updated codes could include anything from public nuisances, building and electrical code, business regulations, zoning and much more. Roosevelt-Custer has been assisting a number of cities with zoning updates as communities such as Mott, Bowman, New England and others continue to expand.
Parke said some of the code cities have on the books is several decades old.
"As we go through some of the stuff on the books, we'll see things that simply need to be update, such as 50-cent fines," Parke said. "Some fines will be going from 50 cents to 50 dollars. Some cities have wanted to enact rules for golf carts, snowmobiles and other types of smaller vehicles in town. With the oil boom, people are coming in and there are developers coming into these communities -- that's part of it."
Parke said the effort to update city codes began last fall. For the cities currently being update, a public comment period will be offered before anything is set in stone. Parke said a big portion of what he called the "city code project" is setting new ordinance standards for licensing dogs and cats, which, in some cases, are "running wild" in certain communities, he said.
"A lot of what we're doing doesn't have to do with anything very controversial," Parke said. "But a lot of it will come in handy. South Heart recently hired some new police officers and they wanted to make sure they had their city code for that."
Along with the code updates in South Heart, a number of other recent projects either completed or in the works have had city leaders busy. The town recently had infrastructure for a railroad quiet zone erected and is in the midst of a large water project, which is slated to be finished later this year.
South Heart Mayor Floyd Hurt said it's all part of being a growing community in booming western North Dakota.
"Things are changing and we don't want to be left behind," Hurt said. "We've extended our territorial control to one mile where it had been half a mile. We've had some issues with stuff that we didn't cover 15 or 20 years ago and we just want to bring everything up to date. We have a 200,000-gallon water tank going up and some other projects going on. A lot has changed around here in just the past six years."
Sitting with South Heart resident and city councilman Quain Kudrna on Monday, Hurt said he remembered that last oil boom and subsequent bust in the 1980s.
"It was over quick," he said. "There were people staying in a trailer on my street who just up and left one day. They left everything, snowmobiles and the trailer and everything."
With numerous studies forecasting much greater staying power from the current boom, Hurt and Kudrna recognize the need to make sure their community is equipped to handle the changes.
"They're doing things differently this time around," Kudrna said of the oil industry. "This is more of a long term deal."