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New England discusses voting, liquor licenses

During its monthly meeting Monday, the New England City Council discussed several issues, including polling places, liquor license renewals and two antique fire trucks the city will be putting up for sale.

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New England City Commission members Mayor Marty Opdahl, left, Breann Krebs, center, and Mike Grote discuss city business during a meeting on November 1. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

The City of New England met for the first time this year during its monthly meeting Monday. Shortly after the meeting began, Mayor Marty Opdahl explained that during the Dec. 20 Hettinger County Commission redistricting hearing, he lobbied the county for a polling place in each of the county's three main communities: New England, Mott and Regent for upcoming elections.

Hettinger County Commissioner Todd Lutz made a motion to establish said polling places but the motion failed as both his fellow commissioners Angela Carlson and Tom Geerts refused to second it. Opdahl said the commissioners cited costs and finding poll workers as their reasons for rejection. The commission determined that the polling place will again be in Regent, the most centrally located of the three cities. Regent is 24 miles from New England.

New England City Councilmembers Chris Fitterer and Lyle Kovar emphasized their support for a polling place in New England. Fitterer rejected the idea that cost was an issue, and said he believed it wouldn’t cost more than $500 to $1,000.

In a phone conversation with The Dickinson Press, Geerts said staffing was the driving force behind his decision.

“It’s not necessarily the cost that’s the issue,” Geerts said. “I’m not opposed to having more than one polling place. It’s just the availability of workers is tough… We couldn’t justify having more than one.”

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Despite the distance of the polling place, Opdahl said it remains confident that those who want to vote will be able to.

“I’m not concerned about ballot access because everybody gets a mail-in one, so they have it. And there is a drop box down here at City Hall,” he said. “But some of the older people like to go into the polling place and cast their ballot in person, and there’s been some heartburn from it.”

In other business, Fitterer noted that the city is selling two antique fire trucks. One is a 1952 Ford and the other is a 1972 International. The mechanical condition of the trucks is unclear. Lead city maintenance worker Clarence Binstock said they haven’t been started in several years.

The council approved the renewal of liquor licenses for The Hub Convenience Store, Golden West Bar and McKenzie Mercantile. Fitterer abstained from the vote to avoid a conflict of interest, as he is part-owner of The Hub. Councilmember Tom Gorek was not present at the meeting.

After the meeting, Opdahl noted population changes in the 2020 U.S. Census.

“New England is the largest community in our county right now,” he said, adding that he was surprised at how many people left Mott.

According to United States Census Bureau data , New England grew by 83 residents to 683 in 2020. Much of the growth is being attributed to the results of a booming oil economy. In non-Bakken adjacent areas of southwest North Dakota, populations remained near static as long-term trends that witnessed populations move out of rural communities into city hubs stagnated as the coronavirus pandemic and remote work opportunities emptied downtowns across the state. In 2020, Mott’s population dropped by 68 to 653, while Regent rose by 10 to 170.

In Stark County, Dickinson experienced a 44.4% spike in population over the decade — from 17,787 in 2010 to 25,679 in 2020.

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