Marital connections make for familiar names in Grand Forks political races

There will be familiar names on the local election ballots this June, but a few of those names belong to perhaps unfamiliar faces.

The Schneider and Mock on the City Council ballot aren’t state Sen. Mac Schneider and state Rep. Corey Mock — it’s their wives, Crystal Schneider and Jeannie Schultz Mock.

And although City Council member Dana Sande is running for re-election, he is not running for Grand Forks Public School Board — his wife, Meggen Sande, is.

All three women said while they have their husbands’ support, the decision to enter local politics was their own.

“I’m my own person,” Meggen Sande said. “I would hope that people would listen to what my thoughts are, separate from what Dana’s doing.”

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THE CITY SCOOP: Rules for renting?

Each week, Herald reporter Charly Haley answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q. What are the city’s rules for renters in neighborhoods? My neighbors have started to rent out their basement as an apartment, and now the tenant always parks on the street in front of my house, preventing me from using that parking space. The tenant is also noisy.

A. In Grand Forks, a property owner is required to get a license and a Certificate of Occupancy from the city in order to rent out their property, according to Bev Collings, building and zoning administrator for the city.

You can start the process of obtaining these documents at the Inspections Office in City Hall, she said. The city inspects rental properties approximately every five years or when complaints are reported.

When it comes to parking, all houses, regardless if they are owner-occupied or rented, are required to have a minimum of two off-street parking spaces, Collings said.

“With that said, anyone can park on the street as long as they are not breaking any parking laws,” she said. “The street is for public use. A home owner does not own the parking spot on the street in front of their house.”

And about the noise, Collings said, the city does have a noise ordinance, and if someone feels another person is breaking that ordinance they can call the Grand Forks Police Department to investigate.

Plans changed

Q. It seems odd that South 23rd Street runs from 32nd Avenue straight into the parking lot of Lithia, while drivers along the frontage road must stop. Is there any logical reason for that configuration?

A. When that part of town was not yet developed in the 1980s, the city had planned to have South 23rd Street connect 32nd Avenue and 36th Avenue, according to Brad Gengler, city planner.

Walmart then came into that area and part of their development involved a frontage road, Gengler said. When Hanson Ford, which is now Lithia, started their development, they wanted to continue the frontage road all the way to South 20th Street.

The Lithia development changed the plans for South 23rd Street, Gengler said.

The reason for the stop signs on the frontage road and not on South 23rd Street, he said, is so that traffic won’t back up and affect traffic on 32nd Avenue South.

Have a question about government or other local issues? Email or call 701-780-1102.

Round-up of City Council candidates

Grand Forks City Council seats in Wards 2, 4 and 6 are up for election in June.

The Ward 2 race has two newcomers. Incumbent Tyrone Grandstrand is not running for a second term:

  • Crystal Schneider, a former executive of a nonprofit-group, said she wants to keep property taxes down, push for affordable housing and make Grand Forks more attractive to young professionals.
  • Jode Gibbs, a volunteer, said she wants to bring “a common sense, conservative approach” to City Hall.

The Ward 4 race two newcomers also. Incumbent Hal Gershman, first elected in 2000, is not running again.

  • Nels Christianson, a small-business owner, said he wants to lower property taxes.
  • Jeannie Schultz Mock, an environmental scientist at an engineering firm, said her experience with regulatory issues will help the council.

In Ward 6, incumbent Dana Sande is running unopposed for his second term.

Grand Forks business group to introduce, seek ideas at Downtown Day

Community leaders are looking to bring excitement and improvements to downtown Grand Forks, and they’re going to introduce many of their ideas Thursday.

The Downtown Development Association of Grand Forks is hosting “Downtown Day” at the Empire Arts Center Thursday to present a vision and cultivate ideas for downtown.

The event will feature Doug Burgum, founder and chairman of Kilbourne Group in Fargo, which played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Fargo, said Jonathan Holth, president of the Grand Forks DDA’s board of directors and a downtown business owner.

Other speakers will include Mayor Mike Brown, Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman and officers of the DDA. The event, which is free and open to the public, will also include a conversation for all community members to voice their ideas about downtown, Holth said.

“We want to build downtown into a destination district,” Holth said.

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THE CITY SCOOP: No open handicapped parking?

Each week, Herald reporter Charly Haley answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q. In several parking lots around town there is handicapped parking available, but sometimes people are taking those spots with no visible sign of a handicapped parking permit. I have artificial knees and need a place to park. How is the handicapped parking rule enforced?

A. The Grand Forks Police Department enforces the city’s handicapped parking rule when violations are observed, said Lt. Dwight Love.

There are people who call 911 to request an officer to help with a handicapped parking violation, Love said. Officers respond and take the appropriate actions, which may include verifying that the handicapped parking spot is properly marked.

“Officers will usually not only issue a citation during this type of call for service but also will find the owner of the vehicle and educate them on the subject,” Love said.

The citation includes a $100 fine, according to Grand Forks City Code. Half of the money collected from those fines is appropriated to the mayor’s committee on employment of people with disabilities.

Owning a police scanner?

Q. Who can legally own a police scanner and what are the penalties if you have one and you’re not supposed to? And how can they find out if you have one?

A. Any citizen can own a radio frequency scanner that can pick up most police radio frequencies, Love said. A few departments utilize digital encryption technology to prevent some of their frequencies from being monitored.

Have a question about government or other local issues? Email or call 701-780-1102.

Rail safety concerns prompt multi-state training center idea

Prompted by rail safety concerns, Grand Forks city leaders are in the early stages of possibly expanding the local first responders training center to have a wider, multi-state regional scope.

The idea came after a meeting in Washington with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., earlier this month, said council member Bret Weber.

After the explosive train derailment in Casselton, N.D., in December highlighted the hazards of crude oil transportation by rail, Heitkamp and many others have publicly expressed concerns about rail safety, including the importance of first responder training.

When she met with Grand Forks leaders, Heitkamp said she will push for federal dollars to be made available for first responder training, said Abbie McDonough, spokeswoman for Heitkamp’s office in Washington. Although Heitkamp can’t guarantee anything now, she encouraged Grand Forks to be prepared in case the federal funding opportunity arises, McDonough said.

So the city has started some early conversations to expand its first responder training facility into a regional center that could attract first responders from as far away as South Dakota or Montana for education and training, Weber said.

“We’re thinking pretty big,” he said.

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Building boom helps drive property valuations, assessor says

Many more Grand Forks residents received notices of increased property value this year.

In a “normal” year, about 800 to 1,000 notices are sent out by the city, but this year, there were more than 1,600, said John Herz, city assessor.

The notices indicate that a property’s value has increased by at least $3,000 and 10 percent or more.

The city assessing office is careful to note that increased property value does not necessarily mean property taxes will increase, Herz said. The taxes will only increase if local government entities do not lower the mill rate, or the rate at which property is taxed, ac-cording to the property value increase, he said.

Some reasons for sharp property value increases are remodeling exemptions expiring or if a property hasn’t been revalued in a while — but the main factor that seems to have caused this year’s jump in property values is the boom of new development in Grand Forks, Herz said.

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(Above photo by Herald photo editor John Stennes)

Rental survey shows vacancy rates up in Grand Forks area from prior year

The apartment vacancy rate in the Grand Forks area has almost doubled since this time last year, meaning that many more apartments are available — but the market still isn’t quite where local experts would like to see it.

Last month’s vacancy rate for private rental housing units in greater Grand Forks was 4.41 percent, according to a survey done by the Greater Grand Forks Apartment Association. That’s up from the 2.29 percent vacancy rate measured last February and 2.84 last July.

“It was way too low last year,” said John Colter, executive officer for the apartment association. “It’s a lot healthier now. People can make choices (on where to live) now, whereas before they couldn’t.”

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(Above photo by Herald news editor Tu-Uyen Tran)

Small town clinics face off in Grand Forks County

Residents of two Grand Forks County towns will soon have two clinics in each place to choose from.

The longtime partnership between Valley Community Health Centers and Northwood Deaconess Health Center has split, with Deaconess opening its own clinic in Northwood, N.D., and planning another new clinic in nearby Larimore, N.D.

Valley Community Health, which is open to anyone but specializes in uninsured and underinsured patients, has clinics in Northwood and Larimore, and both clinics will stay open.

Both Northwood and Larimore have populations of about 1,000 people and are about 20 minutes away from each other.

And while Pete Antonson, CEO for Deaconess, said there are enough patients in that area for the new Deaconess clinics to succeed, Valley Community Health CEO Doug Jaeger Jr. said “it doesn’t make sense” to have two clinics in a small rural town.

“It’s not enough (patients) for two clinics,” Jaeger said.

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THE CITY SCOOP: Reader spots broken sign

Each week, Herald reporter Charly Haley answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q. What does the 600 feet sign on the Point Bridge mean?

A. It looks like you caught a small problem, but the city of East Grand Forks is working to have it fixed.

After your question was asked, this sign was taken down, said Jason Stordahl, public works director for East Grand Forks.

The “600 feet” was part of an old, broken sign that used to indicate the sidewalk ending in 600 feet.

But instead of fixing the broken sign, Stordahl said East Grand Forks’ Public Works decided to remove it because “there really shouldn’t be pedestrians there,” as it is a busy bridge and not very safe to cross on foot.

The East Grand Forks side of the bridge already has “no pedestrians” signs, and Stordahl said after talking with Grand Forks Public Works, his department has ordered signs for the Grand Forks side of the bridge as well.

Q. Where can you dispose of paint cans and spray paint in Grand Forks that are half full?

A. There are a few steps to disposing of each of these.

According to LeahRae Aumundson, Public Works operational division director for the city, your half-filled can of spray paint should be sprayed into a cardboard box lined with a plastic bag in a well-ventilated area until it’s empty.

Once dry, the bag can go into your regular household trash for disposal. The empty spray paint may be recyclable (check the can), otherwise, it can also be thrown away with your regular trash.

Emptying the can before throwing it away is importance to reduce hazards for you and the Public Works employees operating compaction equipment on the way to the landfill, Amundson said.

Liquid paint is not acceptable at the landfill in liquid form, Amundson said.

“The most economical way to dispose of old paint, other than any opportunity to reuse it on another project, is to open the lid, add kitty litter, floor dry, sawdust, even newspaper strips to speed the drying process,” she said. Once dry, it can be thrown away with regular trash.

Amundson encourages people to only buy the amount of paint they will use, “to minimize the impact of waste paints.”

Have a question about government or other local issues? Email or call 701-780-1102.