Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker provided the State of the City on Tuesday, Feb. 4, in which he stopped just shy of declaring participation in the 2020 census as the most important event for Dickinson in the coming months.
The State of the City luncheon, organized by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce, kicked off with an address by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum as community members packed Dickinson State University’s Henry Biesiot Activities Center.
The importance of the census, according to Decker, was evident when looking at the financial figures: $1.45 billion in federal funds were allocated to programs in North Dakota based upon resident count from census 2010 and subsequent annual population estimates. These programs include Medicaid, highway construction, Head Start, foster care, the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, low income energy assistance, special education and other programs. For every citizen that isn't registered in the census, the state loses $19,100 in funds that come from the federal government based on population.
But more important to Decker was the importance that the census played in legislative districting. The mayor called for maximum participation in the enumeration of western counties as a way to increase representation for Dickinson and the rest of the Western Edge in the decision making occuring at the state level.
According to Decker, McKenzie County had 6,300 residents in the county in 2010 but had grown in the succeeding years to recent estimates of 27,000.
“That equates to almost two whole districts just in McKenzie County,” he said. “Currently they only have one district from Bowman to Watford City, which could possibly be split up into three whole different districts.”
The mayor promoted the self-reporting system that goes active March 12 and will arrive by mail to all addresses with postal service. The mayor also pointed to the importance of local volunteers in the process, calling them “the best solution” to getting a complete and accurate account of citizens.
“They need about 1,500 census workers statewide, and it’s going to be even harder in the western part of the state to secure workers to come out here and go door to door and knock,” he said. “I feel that if someone locally participates and becomes a census worker, that would be a huge benefit to getting an accurate count, because having somebody coming up that you don’t recognize to your door provides less opportunity that we’re going to report to that person and get an accurate number.”
Additional topics of discussion from the mayor included how to best promote Dickinson and attract the people needed to fill open positions within the city. One of the solutions came as the mayor debuted a video package aimed at attracting new residents to Dickinson.
“We need to do a better job at selling ourselves,” he said. “We have the jobs, we need the people.”
The mayor then discussed financials for the city, including an increase in revenue generated from sales taxes, future funds discussions, debt reduction and confirmed that the final payment owed on the West River Community Center would be paid in 2025.
Decker announced that a new North Dakota National Guard armory has been scheduled for construction in either fall of 2021 or spring of 2022, calling the new announcement an exciting time for the city and a great move by the National Guard.
In his remarks, Burgum called for more action to address the state’s workforce shortage, highlighted recent progress on diversifying the economy and making North Dakota a more military-friendly state, outlined a plan for Legacy Fund earnings that included investing in property tax relief, infrastructure and transformational projects.
“If you are here today, you are a part of the people that are engaged in this great community, are engaged in driving the future and I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of you who are serving on multiple boards in different places across the community … and doing a fantastic job,” Burgum said. “One of the things that makes North Dakota so great is that there are so many people who are so engaged.”
Burgum noted the state’s finances have stabilized and reserves are being rebuilt since the state’s rainy-day fund was nearly drained to cover revenue shortfalls. The Budget Stabilization Fund is expected to reach its statutory cap of $726.5 million – the fund’s highest balance ever – by the end of the current 2019-21 biennium. And general fund revenues through the first six months of this two-year budget cycle are tracking more than 7%, or $102 million, ahead of the forecast in place when legislators adjourned last April.
Burgum touted the improving forecasts for North Dakota, which has had booming population growth and has become the No. 2 oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas — a fact he said made the United States a more safe and economically strong nation as a result.
“We can now sell energy to our friends and allies, versus buying it from our enemies,” Burgum said.
After his address, other speakers addressed those in attendance with updates to their various entities of importance in the community. These speakers included newly appointed DSU President Stephen Easton; Hope Christian Academy administrator Shane Bradley; Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Shon Hocker; and Trinity Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser.