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COVID-19 relief checks expected to hit a bank account near you Wednesday
  • Updated

COVID-19 relief checks are in the proverbial electronic mail, and the first batch of payments are expected to begin landing in American bank accounts Wednesday, March 17.

What do you need to do to get your payment?

In general, nothing at all. The initial $1,400 direct deposit payments are being sent out automatically, based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns, depending on whatever is the latest tax return available.

You can track the progress of your stimulus check using the Get My Payment tool online at irs.gov, https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment. In addition to status, the tool will tell you which type of payment you are receiving, and will give you an estimated delivery date.

Make sure to have the exact address from your latest tax return for this tool. It is not forgiving of even minor differences, such as whether “North” or “Street” were abbreviated.

There aren’t many ways to speed things up. Calling the IRS or other banking institutions, for example, will make no difference and may simply gum up the words. But there is one exception. Those who didn’t choose direct deposit for 2019 could go ahead and file their taxes now, choosing direct deposit. That could help move them ahead in the lineup.

Those who do not sign up for direct deposit will get either a check or a debit card in the mail. Eventually.

Anyone who didn’t choose direct deposit and has moved between now and filing their latest tax return should check that their mailing address and other details are up-to-date, to ensure prompt delivery of their check or debit card.

Social Security and other federal beneficiaries will receive their payments the same way as they do regular benefits. A payment date for this group has not yet been announced.

Here’s what else you need to know about this third round of coronavirus aid.

• Most people will get $1,400 for themselves and $1,400 for each qualifying dependent claimed on their tax return. There’s no age limit this time. All dependents are eligible for the full $1,400 amount. A family of four would thus get $5,600.

• Income limits have changed this time around. The thresholds are $75,000 AGI for individuals, $112,500 for head of household, and $150,000 for married filing jointly. Payments phase out quickly after that, ending at $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for head of household, and $160,000 for married filing jointly.

• Payments will be based on the latest available processed tax return, whether from 2019 or 2020. This includes those who used the non-filers tool last year, or, alternately, submitted a simplified tax return to the IRS.

• For those whose 2020 return wasn’t available, the IRS will send an additional check if there is a difference between what your payment should have been based on the new return. The 2020 return must be filed before July 15 to be eligible for that.

• The payments cannot be offset to pay past-due federal debts or back taxes.

• The IRS is also processing tax returns for 2020 along with sending out the American Rescue Plan stimulus checks. There is presently no plan to delay this year’s tax filing deadline. It remains April 15.

By the numbers
By The Numbers: 2020 Williston Police Department annual report released

Williston Police Chief David Peterson shared the department’s 2020 annual report with the Williston City Commission, showcasing the work the city’s First Responders have done, amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic.

39,078: Calls for service in 2020, up from 36,663 from 2019.

1,542: Total arrests made for 2019, down from 1,768 arrests in 2019.

165: Number of DUI arrests on 2020, down from 248 in 2019, but traffic citations themselves were down by 1,454 from 2019, totaling 3,569 in 2020.

707: Total of traffic accident citations issued in 2020, down from 1,239 in 2020.

593: Number of animals in the pound, down from 663 in 2018. That includes 334 dogs and 259 cats.

244: Drug arrests made in 2019, up from 229 in 2018.

145: Total arrests made by the Northwest Narcotics Task Force in 202-, which include 93 felony arrests and 23 misdemeanor arrests.

179: Number of cases to date in 2020 from the Northwest Narcotics Task Force

31: Total search warrants to date from the Task Force

$551,668: Total approximate value of drugs seized by Task Force, which includes around four pounds of meth, 17.5 pounds of marijuana and 1 pound or less of heroin and cocaine.

$850,808.46: Amount of fines collected by the municipal court in 2020, down by $47,330.08 from 2019.

197: Number of program hours presented by the department. Those programs reached 4,620 people in 2020, down from 7,325 in 2019.

The annual report will be available on the City of Williston website at www.cityofwilliston.com.

Man accused of having photos, videos showing sexual abuse
  • Updated

A 37-year-old man is facing more than 60 felony charges after police say they found dozens of images on his phone of children being sexually abused.

Ryan Hobbs was charged with 68 class C felony counts of possession of certain materials prohibited. He was ordered held on $250,000 bond.

The investigation started more than a year ago, when investigators with the Williams County Sheriff’s Office responded to a tip, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court.

Police searched Hobbs’ phone and found multiple videos and dozens of images that appeared to show prepubescent and toddler-aged children being sexually abused, charging documents state.

Hobbs told police multiple stories about what was on his phone, court records indicate. He told them he would search for the content multiple times per month in order to “bust” other people and that he had searched for it from multiple locations.

“Hobbs claimed he might have child pornography on his phone due to ‘pop ups,’ and claimed that he had supposedly observed his phone downloading files and creating file folders without his knowledge,” investigators wrote in the probable cause affidavit.

Hobbs also said he had been drinking on at least one occasion when he shared images of children being sexually abused.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 14.

Hobbs was charged in February 2020 with two class C felony counts of possession of certain materials prohibited. He has pleaded not guilty and a trial in that case is scheduled for May.

AARP objects to settlement agreement in MDU rate case, set to be heard March 17
  • Updated

MDU’s customer charge for natural gas delivery is already the highest in the region. It’s set to get much higher, however, under the terms of a settlement agreement filed by MDU and the Public Service Commission’s advocacy staff on March 11.

AARP North Dakota was a party to those negotiations, but has dropped out, and filed its objections to the settlement agreement on the afternoon of March 17.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has set aside two and one-half days for a formal public hearing into the rate request, which begins 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 17.

To attend telephonically, call 1-888-585-9008. The access code is 259-316-322. This is a formal hearing. Public input was already taken March 2.

MDU’s original rate increase request filed last summer asked for $8.972 million, or a 7.8 percent over existing rates. Concurrent with that, the utility filed an interim rate increase that asked for $6.893 million. Those rates went into effect in January.

The settlement rate is almost identical to that amount at $6.886 million, working out to a difference of just $7,085 — a refund of around 2 cents per customer. Since the cost to return that to each customer is more than the value of the refund, the parties agree in the settlement to forgo that.

The non-refundable refund is not where the main problem with the settlement lies, according to Josh Askvig, with AARP North Dakota. The big issue is that the settlement moves an additional $1.7 million into the residential column, and places all of that new burden into a fixed fee that customers cannot affect by decreasing their use of the service.

If the settlement is approved, the fixed customer charge will move from the $20.58 level it increased to in January to $25.91 per month.

“We have evidence on record showing that’s the highest fixed charge in the region,” Askvig said. “In fact, it’s well above their counterparts. It’s almost three times above MDU Montana and MDU South Dakota.”

MDU Montana’s customer charge is $7.80, while MDU South Dakota’s is $9. The next highest rate would be Black Hills Energy in Wyoming, which is $20.

MDU’s position is that residential customers are not paying their fair share of the responsibility for delivery costs. Mark Hanson, representing MDU, told the Williston Herald only that it will “present its case, which includes the settlement agreement with the PSC advocacy staff, at the hearing.”

AARP believes that MDU is making an error in the classification of distribution mains, which, if corrected, would save $1.6 million of the proposed cost shift onto residential households.

Beyond that, Askvig said, the agency continues to have questions about how much of the increased costs are more related to the population boom that was brought on by North Dakota’s oil and gas industry. That has brought thousands of permanent workers to the state, dramatically increasing residential energy demands.

Putting so much of that increased cost, basically sparked by an industry trend which forced companies to rapidly build out infrastructure to serve that new workforce, is just unfair in general, Aksvig suggested. But it is particularly unfair to senior residents who live on fixed incomes and can less easily adjust to all of these increased costs.

Many seniors live in one or two-person households with fixed incomes, Askvig pointed out. A large percentage of those individuals are already trying to save money by aggressively adjusting their temperature dials to levels most would consider cold in the winter, and hot in the summer.

Continuing to shift even more fixed costs onto those consumers guarantees their main means of adjusting becomes less and less effective. It also does nothing to reward those who aggressively conserve energy.

“The interim rate increase in this case took place in January 2021,” AARP’s filing states in its conclusion. “Many residential customers have been paying higher gas bills all through the long winter, while suffering under additional economic stress due to the pandemic. AARP implores the Commission to consider carefully whether they believe such residential customers deserve another rate increase right now.”

COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
  • Updated

Doses administered statewide: 299,209

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 179,105

Statewide rate for one dose: 24.8%

Statewide rate for two doses: 14.5%

Williams County rate for one dose: 14.3%

Williams County rate for two doses: 8.6%

Divide County rate for one dose: 31.4%

Divide County rate for two doses: 16.9%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 18.0%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 8.9%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 30.5%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 15.4%