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Decker lauds city growth, prospects at “State of the City”

Mayor Scott Decker detailed the city's efforts at debt reduction, meeting area workforce needs and new downtown projects at Tuesday's State of the City, held at Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson 1 / 3
After voters rejected a measure to fund a needed new high school, Superintendent Shon Hocker said at Tuesday's State of the City the school district is readying a "round two listening tour" to better understand what the community wants. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
At Tuesday's State of the City, Rep. Mike Lefor (D-37) spoke about the importance of passing Operation Prairie Dog with the last legislative session and the impact of keeping oil tax revenue in the region. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)3 / 3

The state of the city is strong.

Mayor Scott Decker lauded Dickinson, its efforts and its prospects Tuesday at a Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce event held Tuesday at Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge.

A major initiative for Dickinson this year is the 2020 federal census.

More than being useful for attracting businesses to the city, it is important for Medicare, highways and national school lunch program funding, Decker said.

"The federal dollars tied to the census are enormous," he said. "Every person we miss in the census potentially costs the city $1,910 a year. Every family we miss potentially costs the city in federal funding $4,699 a year."

In preparation, a complete count committee has been formed.

"We're going to go out and we're going to make sure the under-reported are reported and we get an accurate count," Decker said, "and make sure those under-reported individuals feel like a part of the community."

The city is "slowing eating away" at its debt, Decker said.

At $92 million in 2017, the city's debt has been brought down to $81.3 million over two years.

State revolving loan fund debt, last year at $75 million, is down to $72.5 million.

West River Community Center, which owed $17 million last year, is down to $13.6 million.

"We pay off whatever we can pay off," he said. "There are some obligations we can't touch. We have to pay on a schedule and that's just the way it is."

Downtown could be the focus of many projects in coming months, including the public library expansion, a new eight-screen theater, new American Bank Center building and a town square project.

"We have to have a crafted dance downtown, because there's a possibility of a lot of projects happening," Decker said. "Our staff is busy trying to figure out how we're going to fit all these moving pieces downtown and not impact the businesses there."

The region continues to need workers.

With unemployment at 2.3 percent, and sometimes as low as 1.8 percent, area industries are unable to fill positions.

Decker suggested forming a taskforce and targeting retiring and transitioning military service members across the country.

"We have to find a way to get on everybody's radar," he said. "We have to become part of their discussion on where they want to move. Unless you're connected with the energy sector or you're from here, you don't know about us."

Decker encouraged the audience to help him "tell the story."

"This is the greatest place to live in America," he said, "and the greatest country that was ever on the face of the Earth."

Rep. Mike Lefor (D-37) provided an overview of the recently concluded legislative session.

Lefor lauded the passage of Operation Prairie Dog, an oil tax revenue distributing bill aimed at keeping funds in western North Dakota's hub cities.

"Dickinson is projected to get $27.5 million. That's not a fixed figure," he said. "That's at $48, 1.3 million barrels per day production, which is far lower than what we're getting currently. All these figures can grow from where they're at."

Stark County will receive $8.4 million and Dickinson Public Schools will receive $4.7 million.

That funding would otherwise have been cut in half, Lefor said.

Superintendent Shon Hocker spoke about Dickinson Public Schools' upcoming efforts following defeat of a measure on May 7 for new high school.

"The need has not gone away, but the community voice has been heard," he said. "There were 2,000-ish voters who were behind our ideas and 2,700 voters who were not."

The district and its board are preparing a "round two listening tour" to better understand the community's interests, Hocker said.

"We need to know if the community does support a new high school and, if so, are they willing to pay for it?" he said. "If the cost of the proposal we presented to the community... if that is indeed unsupported, if that is too high, decisions need to be made in regards to next steps."

Dickinson Parks & Recreation Director James Kramer celebrated the 15-year anniversary of West River Community Center.

The facility continues to boast impressive numbers, Kramer said.

At its peak, WRCC had 7,200 members in 2014, and after a brief decline is up to 6,500 members and increasing.

"Any given day, we're averaging about 1,200 people going through the door," he said. "It doesn't slow down no matter what day or time of the year. We are right on 1,200 people coming into that facility."

Dickinson has grown from 16,000 people when WRCC was built to 25,000 people. That has the potential to become 32,000 people in the near future.

As such, parks play an important role in its quality of life offerings.

"Everyone in this room plays a part, whether it's business retail, education, health or local government," he said.

Fifteen years ago, the buzzword was outmigration, Kramer said, with more people dying in the city than being born and more people leaving than moving here.

"Everybody in the community has done a really good job of turning that around," he said. "We are not talking about out-migration anymore, we're talking about quality of life."