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Dickinson officials lobby to stay out of debt

BISMARCK -- An additional 22,000 people are expected to settle in Dickinson over the next seven years, further stretching the city's infrastructure as it struggles to keep up with water supply, wastewater and other issues.

At the end of the current biennium, the city is looking at $42.1 million of debt incurred from borrowing from the state's revolving fund loan program for infrastructure costs, and could add $40.5 million of debt more on top of that if the state doesn't step in to help.

Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Skarphol, R-Tioga, $12 million would be granted to Dickinson to help fund water infrastructure needs through a change in the state's oil and gas production tax allocation and impact aid program.

But Dennis Johnson, president of the Dickinson City Commission, said that is not nearly enough.

"We have to act quickly to increase various infrastructure capacity," Johnson said. "We can't delay, we have to do these things"

Republican Rep. Vicky Steiner, of Dickinson, has proposed House Bill 1374, which would create a supplemental energy impact grant program and provide Dickinson with $13 million on top of the proposed $12 million, to help with the infrastructure needs.

Johnson told the House Finance and Taxation Committee Wednesday morning, without the passage of House Bill 1374, the city could be forced to take on another $102 million more of debt, with it, the city would only face about $76 million of debt.

He said the city serves about 25,000 and it is forecasted to hit 47,000 people by 2022 and stabilize with a permanent population of about 42,000 by 2030.

Since it has seen a rapid growth and lack of infrastructure, Johnson said the city has been attempting to manage the oil impact "the right way" by planning. The city hired KLJ Engineering in 2011 to lead the city through a comprehensive planning process to determine the required investments the city needed to take to cope with the energy impact.

"The planning is almost complete and the time for action is now," he said. "Dickinson must aggressively invest in its infrastructure now to accommodate the growth being thrust upon the city."

Steiner, who introduced the bill to the committee, said the additional money would be, "a little infusion so we're ready for the newcomers."

While she hopes the bill passes, she said it's an uphill battle, and hopes the committee members attach the proposal as an amendment to another bill if it does not pass.

"It was worth the education of the committee members to learn about Dickinson issues," she said.