Western ND local governments pushing for more oil impact aid

Feb 20, 2014

Local governments in western North Dakota are telling their stories to legislators – hoping for some financial relief to help deal with the oil boom’s growing pains.

The Oil and Gas Producing Counties and the VisionWest Consortium held "A Western Conversation" with state lawmakers in Bismarck Wednesday. The local officials say they aren’t getting enough impact aid to deal with the issues brought on by expanded oil development. They say they contribute a lot of money to the state’s bottom line – but get only a fraction back. They say the needs cover everything from roads and bridges to hospitals and schools.

"We see a tremendous onslaught of trucks, traffic and people who need to live here," said Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. "We were a 1500-person type town. Now there are 10 to 12,000 people within a five mile area. Most of them are living in rural RV camps. A lot of them have kids -- and we have seen school populations double in the last few years."

Sanford says there are needs for new schools and expanded hospital space. And he says the jobs are less in exploration and more in production – and those are permanent jobs, with more families moving to the area. Sanford says Watford City can’t afford it on its own – and he’s looking for more of the oil tax money to stay in the area.

"We kick in a billion dollars in the gross production taxx, and take out less than $100 million," said Sanford. "It's not quite equitable. We need a lot bigger share to handle this."

Ralph Weisenberger is with the southwest REAP – which stands for Rural Economic Area Partnership. He’s from Richardton.  Weisenberger says the smaller communities are facing the same problems that Williston, Dickinson, Watford City and Minot are experiencing.

"All these smaller communities are being impacted by the growth," said Weisenberger. "And we're seeing that they weren't prepared for it."

Tammy Simeano is the business manager for the Billings County school district. She says in her case, the new education funding formula hit the school district very hard.

"We lost a third of our budget," said Simeano. "We were dependent on oil and gas revenue prior to the legislative changes. It's been hard to make that adjustment."

The local government representatives hope to convince legislators that a greater share of oil tax collections needs to stay in the oil patch.