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Published May 13, 2013, 08:56 AM

Griggs County Courthouse plans spark backlash

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. (AP) — Some Griggs County residents plan to circulate recall petitions against all five county commissioners to protest their recent decision to build a $3.5 million courthouse — despite voters rejecting the idea three times in a span of 14 months.

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. (AP) — Some Griggs County residents plan to circulate recall petitions against all five county commissioners to protest their recent decision to build a $3.5 million courthouse — despite voters rejecting the idea three times in a span of 14 months.

"The idea that the commissioners know better than the citizens is disgusting to me," said John Wakefield, a Cooperstown resident who is part of the recall effort. "Why go against the will of the people?

"This is a voter rights issue," he said. "It's a historic preservation issue. It's a tax issue."

The County Commission earlier this month approved bonding of about $2.2 million. It will repay the bonds with money shifted from various county departments. The county also intends to use a $1 million federal grant for a new law enforcement center as part of the project.

"We're not going to raise the taxes to build this courthouse," Commission Chairman Ron Halvorson said.

The existing 130-year-old courthouse is the oldest active courthouse in North Dakota and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. County officials say the building has serious health, accessibility and structural issues, and upgrades are too costly to justify.

The county social services and sheriff's departments were forced to move out of the building in 2011 because of mold that was found on the bottom floor. The mold has since spread.

Griggs County voters in September 2011, June 2012 and this past January voted to save the historic building. The County Commission initially set a fourth election in March but then decided to go the alternative route, which does not require voter approval because taxes will not be raised.

Halvorson said the existing courthouse eventually will be torn down.

"Hopefully we can save some of the things in it and keep it in a display," he said.

The group attempting to oust the commissioners is recruiting candidates to run against them in a recall election.

"Our goal is to take control of the County Commission and put whatever issues that are left back into the hands of the people," Wakefield said.

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