Western local leaders welcome ‘surge’ proposal: Oil Patch officials cite needs for funds
Local western North Dakota leaders are ready with their lists of needs should a newly proposed "surge" funding bill be adopted next legislative session.
Local western North Dakota leaders are ready with their lists of needs should a newly proposed “surge” funding bill be adopted next legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, led a group of western Republicans in announcing the proposal Wednesday in Bismarck. It includes $475 million to oil counties and cities, plus $140 million specifically for hubs Williston, Dickinson and Minot. The bill also includes $35 million for oil county schools and $150 million for non-oil political subdivisions.
Wardner said at the press conference Wednesday that a tentative breakdown of $475 million includes $50 million each for McKenzie, Williams and Mountrail counties, $40 million for Dunn County and $15 million for Stark County.
Many western local leaders are worried about missing the 2015 construction season if they don’t get more funding soon. Wardner hopes to pass the bill by the end of January so communities can feel secure in knowing they have the money when they start bidding out projects.
Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the city also needs the money early to obtain right-of-ways and get projects designed ahead of the construction season.
“I think the state really has to step up to the plate and they’re way behind the eight-ball,” Mountrail County Commissioner Greg Boschee said. “… We need to really move forward.”
Following the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Counties meeting in Williston Thursday, Bouchee said it’s clear: Mountrail, Williams, McKenzie and Dunn counties “are gonna get hammered for the next 10, 15 years.”f
Boschee said the oil-impacted areas need a lot more than what Wardner’s proposal provides, but it’s a big step.
“It’s a great step forward but I’m not gonna be the one that says, ‘Yeah, this is gonna take care of us,’” he said.
Boschee said if legislators are worried about giving western North Dakota more money than it can spend, he has a deal.
“Give it to us and if we don’t spend it … we will give it back,” he said. “They always say we can’t spend it. Try us.”
McKenzie County Commissioner Ron Anderson said he keeps a presentation of his county’s situation, which he plans to use to “spread the message” of need.
Anderson added the biggest expenditure will always be roads, and that in the short-term, the county desperately needs its own jail.
“We’ve got prisoners farmed out all over western and central North Dakota,” he said, adding prisoner transports pull deputies off the roads.
Stark County Commissioner Russ Hoff said every part of his county needs help, but he too highlighted roads as a particularly draining expense.
He said social services has also been hit hard -- its oil-related clients have doubled in the past year, he said.
Having more housing available would help many county departments recruit much-needed staff, leaders said.
“Social workers always seem to be a tough one to fill,” Hoff said. “The biggest part is a lot of times they go, ‘Yeah, but we have nowhere to live.’”
Kessel said building up Dickinson’s infrastructure, like water lines, water storage, sewer lines and sewer lift stations, is a huge need.
“Every penny that we would receive in terms of a surge payment would go toward necessary infrastructure to either provide for more housing, more retail or more commercial or industrial sites in and around Dickinson,” Kessel said.