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Voices of Dickinson: Residents provide input on tax, budget

A five-part series delving into what people in Dickinson are saying. The series will feature people on the street interviews, polling data and highlights on where the city stands on education, health, poverty, economy, infrastructure, crime, taxes and budget. Part IV focuses on tax and budget. What do the citizenry think about how the city spends its dollars and the services it allocates its funding toward? Are there any areas or services residents wish the city would spend more of its dollars on?

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Tax and budget is examined in the fifth part of a multi-part series highlighting resident concerns. (Dickinson Press File Photo)

With five surveys conducted around the city in a two-week timeframe, we have gathered input from more than 300 residents in Dickinson who have weighed in on education, health, poverty, economy and crime from in-street interviews, in-person and online polling data and more. Now, as we wrap up the five-part series, we focus on tax and budget.

A total of 30 respondents completed a survey on tax and budget and were asked various questions from capital improvements, community services to natural resources and sustainability efforts. When asked what community services could be improved in Dickinson, 40% said “parks/recreation,” 27% said “city administration services,” 13% said “police,” 13% said “none,” 7% said “other” and 0% said “fire/emergency services.” For those that specified “other,” they provided solutions such as “quality of life items,” “event center,” “sports complex” and “street maintenance.”

Respondents were asked which capital improvements should the city prioritize and 28% said “don’t know,” 17% said “stormwater/drainage,” 14% said “water,” 13% said “high-speed internet,” 10% said “other,” 7% said “cable/phone,” 3% said “raw water (irrigation),” 3% said “electric,” 3% said “sanitary water” and another 3% said “natural gas.” Respondents that responded “other,” provided a few suggestions such as fortify electric grid, downtown water pipes and roads.

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With a smaller market for retail stores in Dickinson, respondents were allowed the opportunity to express how they felt in terms of whether the city has good quality stores such as Walmart, CashWise Foods and Boot Barn which they frequent rather than traveling outside of town or shopping online. From there, 37% said “strongly disagree,” 17% said “disagree,” 32% said “neutral,” 7% said “agree” and another 7% said “strongly agree.”

When respondents were asked how they felt about the City of Dickinson utilizing its dollars efficiently to make the community a better place, 30% said “strongly disagree,” 23% said “disagree,” 21% said “neutral,” 23% said “agree” and 3% said “strongly agree.”

The City of Dickinson makes decisions on the amount of funding allocated toward each service category as part of the annual budget process. When asked which priority from highest to lowest the city should allocate its dollars toward, 57% of the respondents said that city development should come first, followed by fire/emergency services, police services, public health services and libraries.

Looking at the current sales tax in Dickinson, which is 6.5%, respondents were asked if they would support a 1% sales tax increase in the city that would generate revenue to improve city services and reduce property taxes. The question posed a tight argument with 53% responding with “yes” and 47% saying “no.”

“I think the city should pass a 1% sales with a two-three sunset clause to help pay for some of the great public projects that are developing in our community, i.e. sports complex, downtown square, CTE center. This would help alleviate some of the burden on the city budget while also providing a return on those investment public dollars. Those projects will bring a significant boost to sales tax and further spur development in Dickinson,” a respondent said.

Another respondent wrote, “Tell the people of Dickinson where that $223 million in overpaid taxes is? And what are you planning on doing with it? How can you possibly think about raising taxes when the county has already grossly overtaxed the people of Dickinson and Stark County? Let’s see some transparency.”

What should Dickinson spend more money on?

Respondents were asked if they wished Dickinson would spend more money on other programs, and 50% said “yes,” 40% said “no” and 10% said “other.”

One respondent suggested the city needs to spend more money on traffic issues.

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“Speeding (has) been the biggest complaint of people since the boom and it (has) gotten worse, not better. That is a quality of life issue. The noise is also detrimental to people’s health. South side of town — for (lack of) a better term — has become a zoo,” a respondent said.

Other residents replied that there needs to be more activities for teens, alcohol abuse prevention methods, more funding for community projects, sports facilities, general recreation as well as more social services such as addiction treatment centers in southwest North Dakota.

A resident suggested community outreach programs, noting that the city needs to “find volunteers to donate their time to veterans, as well as addiction therapy groups.”

Quality of life suggestions were highlighted from various respondents including a need for homeless people, continuing stock of food pantries and more investment for youth.

To conclude, respondents provided input on how the City of Dickinson can encourage people to get more involved in how the city budgets and spends its dollars. A few respondents suggested that there needs to be a better line of communication between the city and the people of Dickinson.

“Quit promising things that never materialize. Movie theater, restaurants, mall, etc. It’s hard to believe or take anything promised seriously when the track record shows failure after failure in these areas,” a respondent noted.

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Others recommended accessibility, conversing via social media sites, updating the city’s website due to its difficulty of navigation and promoting discussion from the public.

“The city has lied and overcharged for years. Taxes go up even when (the) economy is down. Taxes went up when the economy was up. They need to live within their means and should be responsible for the money wasted when they were taking it in hand over first through the boom,” a respondent remarked.

Responses forthcoming

As part of this series of articles relating to education, health, poverty, economy, infrastructure, crime, taxes and budget, The Press will gather the information provided and relay the concerns to city, state and school board officials. In the following weeks, the second part of the series will feature the responses from officials with interviews relating to what actions can be taken to address concerns.

Related Topics: DICKINSONCITY OF DICKINSON
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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