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From building permits to crime, City sees activity skyrocketing

Posted 8/25/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
 
It’s no secret that the oil and construction industries are extremely busy in McKenzie County. But workers in those industries aren’t the only ones who are busy.
With an influx of people and businesses to the area, the Watford City municipal employees have found that they are almost as busy as the oil industry employees.
“I was out of the office for a day and a half, and when I returned there were 27 voice mails for me, and that is in addition to the number of people that got a hold of me on my cell phone,” says Lowell Cutshaw, Watford City city engineer/administrator. “I’ve never had voice mails like that. A lot of them were from people looking for information on developing land in town.”
In addition to the calls for information, Cutshaw is also in charge of issuing and doing the inspections for building permits.
“Over the past 10 years I used to do one or two building permits in a year,” states Cutshaw. “So far this year, I’ve had 36 town homes, two single family homes, pole barns, a new hanger, decks, additions and several remodels. Things at City Hall have been crazy busy.”
According to Cutshaw, in addition to the new homes, there are approximately 150 camper trailers in Watford City that are also using the city’s services, which adds to the city’s workload.
“We are opening more accounts and sending out more bills than I’ve ever seen,” adds Cutshaw. “Garbage collection alone is up 23 percent over the past three years, and it seems to grow each week.”
With all of the extra work, Cutshaw says every department would like to add an employee, but the city only has plans to add one new position.
“We are hoping to add a building inspector,” says Cutshaw. “I can’t continue doing everything and doing a good job at it.”
In addition to the city employees having more work to do, the Watford City Planning and Zoning Committee has also been working overtime. The group normally meets once each month with one or two agenda items. However, in July, they met three times with eight items on each agenda.
“In addition to the planning and zoning, the City Council has been very busy with new ordinances,” says Cutshaw. “We’ve had to address trucks on city streets, bonfires, manufactured homes and outdoor dining. Most of the new ordinances or ordinance changes are due to having more people in town, which has equaled more problems and complaints. We understand that things are different in other towns, and with new people coming to town, we want to make sure and address all of the complaints we receive.”
The city isn’t the only area receiving more complaints. The Watford City Police Department has also seen an influx in the number of complaints it receives.
“Just since January, our calls for service and our criminal cases have gone up six times,” says Slade Herfindahl, Watford City police chief. “With more people come more problems. In January we had 40 calls for service. However, in July it was 248. Our criminal cases in January were 13 with 78 in July. Those are some big increases.”
According to Herfindahl, calls for service include those calls that don’t result in an arrest or criminal investigation, traffic accidents, neighborhood or domestic disputes, dogs at large and other complaints. Criminal cases are those where someone is arrested or a criminal investigation is opened.
“For criminal cases, we are seeing thefts, weapons cases and drug cases,” says Herfindahl. “Since January, the number of drug cases has also increased dramatically. I’m not sure if the increase is due to more drugs in the community or if it’s because the department has stepped up its efforts. Either way, we are very busy.”
According to Herfindahl, contrary to what many people think, his department has been making arrests of people from all types of work backgrounds.
“We are seeing more than just oil field workers,” says Herfindahl. “There are a lot of oil and construction workers, but our arrests and complaints are coming from all walks of life.”
Traffic complaints in town have kept his officers busy, leaving them little time to be proactive.
“It would be nice to have a couple more officers so they could be more proactive than reactive,” adds Herfindahl. “But even with the influx, we seem to be able to keep up. The officers are out there and doing a good job.”
In addition to an increase in calls and paperwork, Herfindahl has also had to deal with jail overcrowding, which has his officers spending time away from town transporting inmates to Williston.
“The officers that have been here say they can’t remember it ever being this busy,” comments Herfindahl. “Which is why I can’t stress prevention enough. With all of the people and activity in town, people really need to be locking their houses and cars. Keeping their valuables out of sight is another good way to keep things from happening.”
In the past, Watford City has been referred to as a sleepy little town. But for right now, it is more like the town that never sleeps.