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Stark County law enforcement contracts not signed

From left, Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning, County Commission Chairman Ken Zander, Richardton Police Commissioner Bob Ludlum, Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, and County Commissioner Jay Elkin listen during a meeting Thursday at the Law Enforcement Center in Dickinson.

Stark County residents may have to pay $2 per month for law enforcement if their city doesn't have its own police department, authorities said. However, contracts have not yet been signed.

Officials met at the Law Enforcement Center on Thursday in Dickinson to resolve the issue of providing law enforcement in cities that can't afford to hire their own. Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said emergency services will continue to be provided to county communities, just as they are in rural areas.

"Am I going to turn down a call? No," he said.

However, cities usually have contracts signed with the Stark County Sheriff's Office stipulating services and costs by Jan. 1, Tuhy said Monday.

"All the towns are saying they can't afford to pay," he said. "This has been an issue for years."

During the meeting, representatives from Richardton, Taylor and South Heart said they would like patrol during specific times of the day, such as after school and bar-closing.

"We want you in our towns as much as we can get you, but can't pay for it," said Floyd Hurt, South Heart mayor.

Ken Zander, chairman of the Stark County Commission, suggested adding fees to city residents similar to those expected for garbage and streetlights.

Others suggested levying a mill or part of a mill to cover the cost of patrol.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, urged officials to apply for oil impact grants to defray costs.

She also shared a letter from Timothy Dawson, legal counsel for the North Dakota Legislative Council, stating cities do not have to have police at all. Dawson also stated in the letter the sheriff would have to enforce state laws in the city.

Many at the meeting agreed they are OK with not having an officer in their town at all some days, but prefer a deputy patrolling sometimes.

"There's no sense in us paying for hours on a Saturday afternoon and you can hear a pin drop across town," said Frank Kirschenheiter, president of the Richardton City Commission.

Chuck Andrus, South Heart city councilman, suggested deputies put cities on a random rotation to patrol during times that are busy for all communities.

Enforcing the cities' ordinances, such as animal control and parking tickets, will not be covered by deputies, Tuhy said.

Cities previously signed contracts that would have them pay a monthly amount that differed greatly between each community. Those contracts expired Dec. 31.

Those who attended Thursday's meeting agreed $2 a month per person in the cities seemed fair.

City officials will speak to their councils and commissions before any final agreements are made.