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Dunn County disputes pending tribal land annexation

The Dunn County Commission held a regular meeting on Wednesday, discussing a land purchase by the Three Affiliated Tribes, as well as benefits for its part-time employees.

Dunn County Commission
Dunn County Commissioners Craig Pelton, Daryl Dukart, Larry Lundberg and Auditor Tracey Dolezal.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

MANNING, N.D. — During a bimonthly Dunn County Commission meeting Wednesday, a motion was passed to deny MHA Nation's petition to annex 2,100 acres into a public trust. The commission also modified benefits for part-time county employees.

A county’s fiduciary obligation

The MHA Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, purchased 2,100 acres of land in Dunn County and is in the process of applying with the U.S. Department of Interior to annex this land into a trust for public use, making it property tax exempt.

Commissioner Daryl Dukart said they’ve encountered this scenario before and shot down the annexation request, but have always been overruled by the federal government.

“We have always denied them. Like I say, we’ve never been successful,” Dukart said. “I guess I feel that as a county commissioner, it’s not proper for us to give up taxpaying property just because the tribes bought it.”

Dunn County State’s Attorney Stephanie Davis concurred.

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“I agree, especially when there's a specific public benefit to it. They say it’s a public benefit but they don’t say how,” Davis said.

According to Dunn County Treasurer and Auditor Tracey Dolezal, the annual tax revenue on the property is $1,200, with $320 going to the county’s general fund while the rest supports schools, fire and ambulance services.

Dukart partially attributed this low revenue to the property’s limited agricultural value. He then made a motion to send a letter to MHA Nation denying their petition for annexation of the land into a trust, which was unanimously approved.

MHA Nation response

Tribal Chairman Mark Fox said this land they acquired from the Fettig family was originally theirs per a treaty with the federal government.

“All this land was once formerly owned by the Three Affiliated Tribes. So even that land that we acquired; that formally, by treaty and otherwise, was owned by the MHA,” Fox said.

When asked how this annexation would benefit the general public, he described it as a recreational tourist attraction and said there will be camping facilities and hiking trails for people kayaking and canoeing down the Little Missouri River. The area will be made more hospitable to wildlife, he added.

“What we plan to do with the land is to create a recreational area, keep it mostly in its current or better pristine state, get it cleaned up from the ranchers who were there before and let the wildlife be abundant and prosperous,” Fox said.

He argued that the Dunn County Commission was shortsighted in its action.

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“Our goal is to make basically, a recreational area or tourism attraction, that will of course be open to the public. You would think people such as Dunn County (Commissioners) would be able to crunch their numbers a little bit better and anticipate the additional revenue,” he said. “Because then you get more tourism and more people coming. They’re bringing their checkbooks, cash and credit cards. All that means economic development for the whole area in which they would participate.”

County employee benefits

The commission later discussed holiday pay for part-time employees. In a phone conversation with The Dickinson Press on Friday, Dolezal explained that of the county’s four part-time employees, two were being paid for a full eight-hour day on holidays, while the other two were only being paid half that. Hence, Commission Chairman Lary Lundberg described it as an issue of fairness.

At the recommendation of the county policy board, Lundberg motioned to make the change effective immediately so that all part-time employees would be paid for four hours of work on holidays. The motion was approved in a 3-2 vote, with Dukart and Commissioner Craig Pelton voting no.

Dunn County Commission meetings are held bimonthly at 9 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Dunn County Courthouse.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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