Stark County, Dickinson partner for officer housingStark County and Dickinson will partner for licensed law enforcement in an area that is having trouble keeping and recruiting officers because of unaffordable and unavailable housing.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
Stark County and Dickinson will partner for licensed law enforcement in an area that is having trouble keeping and recruiting officers because of unaffordable and unavailable housing.
The governments are seeking funds from a Law Enforcement Housing Pilot Program grant, which offers $3 million to be dispersed statewide. The application is due by the end of June.
The grant requires a housing unit cost of $160,000 to build and $100,000 of the cost would be covered.
Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said that would cover about 30 housing units in western North Dakota.
“When counties and cities were called about wanting to participate, a number upwards of 80 is what they came up with,” he said. “The grant does allow for housing other than apartments to be built, but I believe apartments would be the easiest and quickest way to get units here.”
A maximum of four units per entity, or eight total units, could be built if Dickinson and Stark County receive the grant.
There would be no income restrictions for law enforcement personnel, but any other city or county employee occupying the unit would have to be below 60 percent of the area median income, which would qualify many city and county employees for the housing, Kessel said. The length of a tenant’s stay would be up to the city and county.
Kessel said Dickinson has two homes for housing city staff, and six more homes should be available in July.
Commissioner Jay Elkin agreed that the county needed to partner with Dickinson.
“I think we need to move forward with the city of Dickinson,” he said. “It’s hard to find people to come and work in this area because they walk away after they look at the existing housing that’s available.”
Two private developers have approached Kessel about building city and county staff housing.
“The nice thing about the law enforcement grant is that it gives you 60 percent equity in any structure you may build,” he said.
Kessel also discussed the grant with Belfield City Commission and Jolene Kline, director of housing and planning development for North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.
“We expanded our talk to include county and city employees because, as we all know, we’re having a hard time filling positions, and it’s basically related to housing,” Kessel said.
Sherriff Clarence Tuhy said a partnership with the county could help Belfield.
“Right now, we’ve been spending a lot of time in Belfield because they do not have their own law enforcement officers,” he said. “They’ve offered the position, but they’ve turned down because of housing issues.”
Belfield City Council will consider police department applicants at a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
Kessel said the law enforcement grant money will be limited and competitive.
“That puts (Stark County) in a little bit of difficult situation because we don’t want to work against Belfield by working with the city of Dickinson, and the same is true for partnering with Belfield and working against you,” he said. “It is going to be a very competitive grant, and there’s no way to get around that if you apply in Dickinson, it may affect Belfield’s grant, and vice versa. We extended an invitation for Belfield, and South Heart as well, to become a partner in a Dickinson facility, but I understand that they would rather have their person located in their community.”
Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning said he didn’t think it was legal for the city or county to dictate where an employee lives.
“I would suggest that you support Belfield, but I would be careful about committing because we can’t city cops to stay in town,” he said. “I do not think we can designate where people live this day and age.”