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Baumgarten: Numbers don’t lie

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Thursday should have served as a wakeup call for anyone that doubts that western North Dakota is in serious need of funding.

U.S. Census Bureau numbers revealed what local leaders have been making a fuss about when asking Gov. Jack Dalrymple to call a special legislative session. Williston has become the fastest-growing micropolitan area in the nation. It added another 10 percent in one year, bringing its total population to 29,595.

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Dickinson trailed behind as the second fastest-growing micropolitan — and the third area overall — with a 5 percent increase, putting its population at 28,212. Minot, another city in the Oil Patch, saw a 3.7 percent increase and the Fargo-Moorhead followed with a 3.1 percent jump.

The numbers may not be shocking at first, but take this into account: in 2010, Williston sat at 14,716, according to Census numbers. That was a 17 percent increase from the 2000 census.

This was the first time since the 1980s Williston did not lose people — like many cities in North Dakota. In 2012, that number increased by 25 percent. Dickinson believes it serves a population between 25,000-30,000, but that doesn’t include everyone who lives in rural areas or small towns.

This isn’t counting the smaller cities, such as Watford City and Tioga. These once dwindling towns are exploding with transient workers. For example, Watford City was home to 1,744 people in 2010. Leaders estimate more than 7,000 live there, though they can’t get a handle on an exact number since so many are constantly moving in and out. This is probably the case in other cities in the Oil Patch.

The estimates are of “areas,” meaning the Dickinson “area” covers all of Stark County. Regardless, these numbers are more than likely underestimates. The Census counts people with permanent addresses in the state. Some workers may still list their out-of-state address, and no one knows how many are living in RV parks.

So why should people care if these people aren’t counted?

Despite the fact that they may not officially have a residence in North Dakota, they still drive on our roads. They use our water, buy electricity, shop at our stores and work for local companies. Through no fault of their own, our highways are being torn to pieces, water systems are overloaded, power grids are overworked and our resources are overused.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: Morton County, which encompassed Mandan, only has 800 people more than Stark County. Ward County, home to Minot, is 1,000 people behind Grand Forks County, which only saw a 1.8 percent population increase.

If that isn’t enough evidence, then take a drive around western North Dakota, where you have to dodge potholes to avoid getting a flat tire, where residents are paying the highest rents in the country, where driving on a road makes you sweat because its narrow or because you have read of careless drivers hitting each other.

City, county and local officials have begged and pleaded for funding, which comes from the tax revenue their area produces.

Up until now, people have questioned the need for a special session, asking for proof to make sure that the money is spent where needed. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they surely don’t lie.

Is this enough proof for you?

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com. Read her past posts on her blog at baumsaway.areavoices.com.

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April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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