The position of county director of tax equalization is not one that places its holder in the spotlight frequently.
Of late, however, Mike Vendsel has been involved - at least in the periphery - in more than his fair share of headline-generating stories.
Prior to being the county tax equalization director, Vendsel said he spent the previous 17 years in the banking industry in Minot.
Dave Caldwell/MDN •
Mike Vendsel, Ward County’s director of tax equalization, has been a very busy man of late. Like in many other fields, the oil boom has created a dramatic upswing in business for his department.
He then took over the position about two years ago with the retirement of longtime director Don Siebert.
Things were pretty much business as usual - until the groundswell of activity associated with the oil boom in northwestern North Dakota began. In recent weeks, controversy over the proposed move of an oil-related fabricating business, a pair of situations involving the legalities of topless dancing at county venues and a proposed temporary housing community east of Berthold have sucked zoning issues - and with them, Vendsel - into the forefront.
Vendsel said Wednesday morning that these issues are bound to come with the territory.
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"I think the increase in the values of the housing in the county, including the city of Minot, is just a supply-and-demand function," Vendsel said. "With the oil industry moving in, the base expanding, there's been a lot more demand for housing. And demand has driven up the price.
"Anytime you see growth, you see new ideas. When you see new ideas, you see the applications for people to implement them. Sometimes that creates a lot of questions and a lot of concerns that need to be answered before those approvals are given."
The workload for Vendsel's office has increased to such an extent that the county commission is preparing to hire additional help. The first step is slated to be the addition of a building inspector-zoning position.
"We are in the process of budgeting for next year, and in the budget we have allowed for the potential to hire a building and planning person," Vendsel said. "That person would be the building inspector as well as the building and planning and zoning function.
"With the growth, there's been a huge increase in the amount of hours required to do that part of the job, and it's very common in the bigger counties in the state in the counties that have seen the growth, they've had to split this out and get people working full time at those particular jobs."
Vendsel said he has been in contact with directors and personnel from other counties that are in similar straits as Ward County with the oil-field fallout, but not much formal interaction.
"I've just had some individual conversations at meetings or conferences I've been to with some of the people, and asked what they've seen," he said. "I've made some phone calls to ask how they've handled certain situations such as the man-camp. They've been real good to help where they can. In some cases, they've experienced what we're experiencing.
"In other cases, they're experiencing along with us and really don't have the answer either."
For some people, it's easy to assume that since Vendsel is the county tax equalization director, the buck stops at his desk. In reality, the "director" term is apropos.
"Occasionally, I'll get people who want me to give them the answer when they hand me the application," he said. "Of course, that's not my function. My function is to present the information to the various boards, and it's their function to make the decisions.
"Some people feel like the process can take longer than it should, but that's just normal for humans. They want to get it moving as quick as they can."
A few years back, property tax information for the county was available via the Internet. However, changes in software programs eliminated that, and people ever since have been requesting it become available again.
"That's something we're looking at," Vendsel said. "I know the auditor's office is working on the tax information side to get that all up and running. I'm not exactly sure where they're at.
"On the property information side, we are working toward that. We're working on our residential properties right now. That's where my main focus has been, on the residential properties, because that's where most of the questions come from.
"We're working with our software company as we speak to get that process moving ahead. Eventually we certainly want to get all of our information on a Web site. I can't tell you exactly when it will be, but that's the goal."