The Williams County Commission voted to approve the first reading of amendments to the Zoning and Temporary Housing ordinances at Tuesday morning’s County Commission meeting. The amendments are being made to clarify the current ordinances.

When the amendments are approved, the state’s attorney can decide what charges would be filed against those who violated the ordinance. This would allow violators to receive civil penalties instead of receiving criminal charges. The changes would also put the county’s laws more in line with the state’s laws.

While the temporary housing moratorium was extended for six months during the last county commission meeting, the ordinances needed to be updated because there are no penalties actually attached to the moratorium.

“The moratorium was a statement of purpose,” said County Commission Chair Dan Kalil.

As the moratorium was brought up,  so were concerns from the public as well as the commissioners themselves.

Members of the public questioned where the people working in the service industry who can’t afford to pay rent or purchase a home in the area were supposed to live, especially if campers weren’t allowed. There have been people who have set up places for campers with proper drainage and electrical hookups that have been approved by the state, yet they can’t let their employees stay on their property.

The commissioners agreed there was a need for better regulation so that county enforcement officials can know who should be on the properties and who should not.

Brought up to the board was the question of the difference between seasonal agricultural employees and what many business owners are currently doing by letting employees park campers on their property. Kalil argued that agriculture workers are only seasonal, while other employees are usually more permanent.

Kalil also reminded everyone where the housing problems in the area originally came from. He said that the state government in Bismarck opened the floodgates to the oil companies, allowing them to move into the area quickly and push infrastructure and housing past its limits.

Commissioner David Montgomery raised the same question he had raised during the previous discussion on the moratorium; is the city gaining ground on temporary housing violators?

Commissioner Barry Ramberg said that despite the county’s best efforts, there are still campers behind every hill and in almost every abandoned barn house.

Without approving the ordinances, the county code enforcement officer would have the power to throw violators in jail, and a lot more people would be in jail if the ordinances were not changed. Commissioner Wayne Aberle said the new ordinances would give county officials the ability to get things done, unlike current conditions with an over-run staff.

Before the board held its final vote on the matter, Kalil also noted that the original ordinance was not standing on a good legal foundation.

Also discussed during the meeting was getting help in the Planning and Zoning Department from an outside firm. The firm is currently helping out the city of Ray and rotates employees through to help out with covenants and other code issues.

At the current time, the Planning and Zoning Department is backlogged with work, and Kalil said this help is needed now.

Problems with the temporary truck bypass were also brought up during discussions on a minor industrial subdivision in the Stony Creek Township. Residents in the area came to complain about the safety issues they are having with trucks speeding through the area and looking to see if it could be moved.

Kalil said that the Department of Transportation was aware of all the problems going on in the area, but at the current time, there is no better alternative.