City of Williston struggles with worker housing costs: Commission looks to cover $1.5 million for employees
WILLISTON — The city of Williston is struggling to afford an increased cost of subsidizing employee housing while finding ways to pay for projects without state assistance.
On Tuesday, City Auditor John Kautzman said the funds needed to retain employees has increased and new options must be sought.
“As long as we’re identified as the highest rent community in the state, this will continue,” Kautzman said.
Retention bonuses increased from $643,000 to $1.2 million with the added employees last year, Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl said
“And it’s just going to continue to grow unless the rents start to moderate to some degree,” Bekkedahl said. “I don’t see it being less than $1.5 million this year.”
Housing is a necessity, but the city has $300 million of projects needed with only $60 million given from the state last session, Bekkedahl added
“We’re in a horrible position,” Bekkedahl said. “The state’s putting away billions of dollars in savings accounts in Bismarck right now that was planned that way by the legislature ... And without legislative action, we can get access to none of it.”
Mayor Ward Koeser said he told the Department of Commerce the cost of an apartment in Williston often totals $700 more than one in Dickinson, and because the city must subsidize $500 per employee a month, it’s costing $1.2 million.
“The pain exists,” Koeser said.
Bekkedahl told commissioners they must be aware of the repercussions — that infrastructure projects on their bucket lists might be turned down because funding is directed elsewhere.
Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk said the city has no choice.
Bekkedahl and Koeser agreed, the latter saying that if the city needs more police officers, it must find housing to retain staff.
“It’s a necessary evil,” Cymbaluk said. “You have to have it at this point.”