County cuts funds for economic development

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1995  | October 1995 issue

At a time when most counties and other levels of government are spending more time and money on issues relating to economic development, the commissioners of Cavalier County in northeast North Dakota decided to send a message to the county's Job Development Authority (JDA)—they cut the county's contribution to JDA in half next year to about $24,000, saying, in effect, that the county wasn't getting its money's worth.

That move came in late September and followed an even bigger surprise for the local business community. Earlier that month the commissioners had decided to rescind its entire contribution of $48,000 from a 3-mill tax levy. "Most people were not satisfied with the way it's going," says County Auditor Jerome Dosmann.

While the JDA receives about $40,000 from sales tax revenue from the city of Langdon, Cavalier County's largest community, the decreased funding from the county means that the JDA will not have a full-time director, but will fund a secretary and other operational costs.

"They gave us what we asked for," says Brent Zavalney, JDA treasurer and executive vice president of the First State Bank of Langdon, about the commissioners decision to fund the JDA at half the previous rate. "This leaves the structure in place." Zavalney says the JDA board is reorganizing and will set attainable goals for the coming year. Next fall, the board hopes to convince the county to reinstate funding at the 3-mill level.

Zavalney concedes that no major manufacturer, for instance, has moved to Langdon, a city of about 2,200, or anywhere else in the county during the JDA's five-year existence, and he says the likelihood of something like that happening is not great, given Langdon's size and the rural nature of the county. As County Commissioner Neil Romfo quips: "We know that Ford Motor Co. is not coming into Langdon."

There have been gains, though, even if they have been relatively small, Zavalney says. Langdon has developed an industrial park and one building has been constructed, with plans for a second.

But small gains don't mean the county shouldn't try to develop new business, according to Zavalney. "If we're not there to do it, nobody's going to do it," he says. Langdon is an agriculturally based town in a county that's losing population, Zavalney says. "We can't lose sight of the need."

Developing new business ideas into working industries takes time, Zavalney says. For example, two North Dakota communities are working with manufacturers to process straw into building materials or containers, and a few other communities are looking to join the effort. That market is saturated, the banker says, by communities that have been in the game for a long time. "It's hard because it takes so much time and so much effort to accomplish anything."

And Langdon's mayor, Don Haugen, says it will be a tough year for the JDA without a full-time director. County Commissioner Romfo agrees; he voted to retain the full 3 mills during the first vote when the JDA lost its funding, and also agreed to the 1.5 mills that the JDA requested at the budget meeting. When asked if he was pleased with the JDA's results, Romfo talked about how difficult it is to attract or develop new business. "I guess I'm kind of pleased," he says about the JDA's efforts. "If you don't try something, you'll never get anything."

David Fettig