Dickinson growth may max out funds: City looks to state to help with key infrastructure
Dickinson’s growth is going to cost a pretty penny — the city expects to be $100 million in debt by the end of the year — and city officials don’t think the city or developers should be on the hook for the whole cost of the growth.
At a regular meeting and work session of the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday morning at City Hall, commissioners and city staff debated who should be responsible for the cost of infrastructure, especially when so much is needed in such a short amount of time.
“We’re trying to do what’s best for the city 50 years from now — for a long time — and the state is not treating us fairly, but yet we’re expected to treat the state more fairly with the impact we have to deal with and the resources here that are benefiting the whole state,” Commission Chairman Earl Abrahamson said. “Everybody in the state is benefiting from what is happening here and we’re trying to look out for what’s best for here. We need help.”
Because the way cities grow has changed, Dickinson is facing challenges it hasn’t faced in other periods of growth. City Engineer Craig Kubas used street lighting as an example.
“In the past (Montana-Dakota Utilities) or Roughrider (Electric) would come in and put those up at their cost and provide the service to the city and we would pay for the electricity,” Kubas said. “Both those groups are backing off that policy and we need to make sure that we’re getting lights in all of our subdivisions. It seems like an obvious thing, but it’s been missed.”
The city has been trying to push the cost of infrastructure onto developers, but that pushes the cost to homebuyers and can price many consumers out of the new home market, said Jason Fridrich, the newest member of the commission. His appointment was approved by the Dickinson City Commission on Jan. 6.
“You can’t build a $250,000 house or less on a $70,000 lot, a $60,000 lot. In this market, it’s impossible,” said Fridrich, a local developer.
The conflict is especially apparent when asking developers to fund large thoroughfares or water and sewer lines that will benefit more than just the subdivision they are developing, Kubas said.
The rate at which Dickinson is expected to grow is causing the city and developers to tackle several more projects and much higher costs than other cities in the state, Commissioner Gene Jackson said.
“If it were normal problems with slow growth we’d probably wait, use our urban roads moneys from (the Department of Transportation). We’d build one every five years or something like that,” Jackson said. “We’re not in that kind of situation. It’s put a different kind of pressure on us to do those things. To me, it’s the best example of a need for impact funds.”
The debt the city is planning to incur to catch up with its growth so far could hinder future growth, Community Development Director Ed Courton said.
“With that, we are maxing out the availability for us to have any leverage to borrow for five or 10 years until those are significantly paid down,” Courton said. “We, in essence, for these next two years with those capital improvement plans, have topped ourselves out. We’re not going to be able to (special) assess a lot of properties. We don’t have that luxury of having liquidity to be able to say, ‘OK, we’ll do 1 million or 2 million (dollars) for this road and over five or 10 years. The developers and homeowners will pay.’ We don’t have that option.”
Because so many projects need to be completed in such a short amount of time, the city may run out of funding, Courton said.
“Unless the state comes through in the next biennium and significantly gives us more money, our capital improvement plan, without this, is going to drop down just as fast because we’re not going to have any money to fund the next round,” Courton said.
No official decisions were made about the development policy at Wednesday’s meeting. The Planning and Zoning Commission will continue to work with city staff to create a policy to guide development within the city.
“We’re not getting served by our Legislature the way we should,” Abrahamson said. “For what we’re giving, we’re not getting back. And we shouldn’t accept something less than what we really want this city to be.”