Voters on Tuesday rejected for the second time attempts to change parts of Williams County’s Home Rule Charter, leaving the future of those efforts unclear.
Voters were asked two questioned: Whether the county auditor and treasurer positions should move from elected to appointed and whether they approved making multiple small changes to the language of the charter to bring it in line with current state law.
The first question was one of logistics, with county officials making the argument those offices have rarely been contested, and sometimes there are no qualified candidates.
Voters rejected that change by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. There were 4,002 yes votes, or 33.72% while there were 7,865 no votes, for 66.28% opposed.
The second question concerned updating the language in the charter, which was adopted in 2006 and has never been amended. The proposal included removing mentions of taxes the county is no longer allowed to collect, like motor vehicle fuels and special fuels taxes, and adding new taxes that the county can levy, such as the county lodging and restaurant tax. Some of the updates would clarify what the county already does. For example, the Home Rule Charter calls for publishing a summary of new ordinances in the official county newspaper, but Williams County typically publishes the ordinances in their entirety.
The state Legislature has passed many laws that change what county governments are allowed to do since 2006, according to Helen Askim, director of Human Resources, Communications and GIS at Williams County. The county follows the latest state regulations, but there is a risk if that differs from what’s written in the charter.
“The complication comes if there were any question of proper procedure,” Askim told the Williston Herald.
That measure also failed, but by a smaller margin. There were 4,621 yes votes, for 40.65% in favor, and 6,748 no votes for 59.35% opposed.
There hasn’t been a discussion about what will happen next, Askim said, but she didn’t expect the commission to call a special election to vote on the changes. The updates are important, but not urgent enough to justify the cost of a special election.
Voters previously rejected the proposed changes during the June 2020 Primary election.
One possible path forward is to work with state lawmakers to change the law so any county’s Home Rule Charter would be automatically updates. Until then, though, the charter will remain as it was when adopted in 2006.
“It is out of our hands at this point to do anything without voter approval,” Askim said.