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Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

 

We're doing the best we can: Rhame talks direction of city board

January 13, 2017

Interim Rhame Mayor Grace Wood talks to the handful of residents gathering at the Jan. 9 city meeting where the public was encouraged to attend. Wood used the second-half of the meeting to discuss the future direction of the city’s board of commissioners. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

(Updated to include the first name of the former Rhame City Auditor, Margie Russ.)

By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

Rhame’s message was clear Monday night: they’re doing the best that they can.
That message was delivered during a town meeting of the city commission in the wake of the mayor, a board member and auditor’s resignation.

“It’s been a rough last couple of months,” Interim Mayor Grace Wood said during the meeting, held inside the American Legion Post.

Wood, who filled the mayoral spot vacated last year by Jeremiah Erickson, had a difficult time answering questions from residents since, as she explained, the board is basically new.

Rhame residents Neyl Eagon, Mike Germann and Brandy Getz currently serve on the city board alongside Wood. With no auditor to handle city business and finances, it has become a team effort.
In the time following the resignations, gossip and rumors had widely circulated around the city’s actions, many suggesting infighting between board members.

Wood encouraged residents not to discuss their grievances amongst themselves or downtown, but instead address them with the board.

While those rumors weren’t discussed in detail during the meeting, it was made clear that the city of Rhame has been having troubles getting back on its feet following the recent shortage of board members and having no auditor since Dec. 1.

“It was to the point where we were all going to quit,” explained Wood. She cited the reason being the gossip, complaints and bashing around town and on social media.

Two candidates for the position of auditor were interviewed in December. One was found unqualified for the position while the other was offered the job but turned it down for undisclosed reasons.

The reason for Erickson’s and City Auditor Margie Russ’s resignations was not disclosed, but former Commissioner Tina Eagon, who resigned in early November, explained during the meeting that she left because of conflicts with Russ.

The city had been operating without the required amount of board members since her resignation. Eagon explained at the meeting that at that time she had offered to rescind her resignation and continue to serve on the board.

Rhame’s board was quiet on why they didn’t take her up on the offer.

Rhame resident Laurie Braaten then voiced several concerns to the board, asking why the city felt the need to invite the public to its meeting.

“My concern is the bill paying,” Braaten told the board. “As a property owner in town, I want to know where we’re sitting. … There’s all sorts of rumors out there, odd things being said, and I am just here trying to reassure myself as a property owner.” Braaten questioned the board over land value’s potentially plummeting since the city seemed to be “falling apart.”

Wood explained that the plan for the meeting was made last month, in a time when things were worse for the board. Since then, according to Wood, she and Getz have met regularly in an attempt to pay bills and “keep the city afloat.”

Braaten then asked why so many of the past board members and city employees, including the most recent maintenance person, opted to resign.

Getz answered that they had left due to harassment and complaints from city residents.

Another resident asked the board about the mill levy increase that was passed in 2016. The city, however, was not prepared to detail the specific figures during Monday’s meeting.

According to information from Bowman County Auditor Sandi Tivis, the city essentially doubled its mill levy. It was raised from 42.95 mills in 2016 to 75.49 mills for 2017.

With one mill being valued at $321 — which increased by $7 in 2017 — the total amount of taxes being collected will total $24,232.29, compared to last year’s $13,486.30.

That’s in addition to the tax bill that Rhame residents pay to the county and school, both of which also saw an increase for this year.

Before the meeting adjourned, Rhame resident Jo Griggs asked the board why there was a statement in the city’s regular meeting minutes, published last month in The Pioneer, which indicated there were “discrepancies” with the city’s finances.

Wood explained that she used the wrong word in the minutes in an attempt to describe the questions they had for Russ over certain line items in the city’s financials. They had called Russ back last month to address the board and answer questions.

Bowman County Commissioners Rick Braaten and Jerry Jeffers were also in attendance. They offered suggestions on how the city could move forward with Jeffers recommending that the city perform an external audit.

The breakdown
The city of Rhame increased its general fund mill levy for 2017 by nearly double, from 42.95 to 75.49. Property owners will pay a total of $24,232.29 for this year.

That total is up from 2016, when tax payers were only responsible for $13,486.30. One mill has a value of $321, which is only a few dollars more than 2016.

That’s in addition to the increased county and school tax bill.

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