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Posted 10/21/14 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor
The financial plight of the “oil rich,” but “money poor” counties and cities that comprise the oil-producing region of western North Dakota is apparently more recognized across North Dakota than some people may believe.
Or at least that is the way that a person could read the results of a recent poll that was commissioned by the Forum Communications Co. of Fargo and conducted by the University of North Dakota’s College of Business and Public Administration.
When asked by the pollsters, roughly half, or 49.7 percent of the 505 randomly selected North Dakotans who participated in the poll, said that they believed that oil counties do not receive enough funding, while 18.4 percent said the western counties are receiving enough funds. The other 31.9 percent of the people who were polled, did not respond to the question.
Those poll numbers are significant as North Dakota’s oil-producing counties are seeking the passage of two important pieces of legislation by the state Legislature this upcoming session.
The first of the bills, and which is most important to help counties like McKenzie County and cities like Watford City, will allow heavily-impacted oil areas of the state begin to catch up with the demand for new roads, water and sewer systems as a result of the tremendous growth being felt. This particular bill, which is being put forward by western legislators, seeks to change the split of the state’s Gross Production Tax (GPT) from its current 75-25 split in favor of the state to a 60-40 split in favor of the oil-producing counties. And that fundamental change in the GPT formula, as Ron Anderson, chairman of the McKenzie County Board of County Commissioners says, will help this part of the state get whole by 2020.
And it is going to take a lot of money to help make places like Watford City and McKenzie County whole again. Watford City officials are estimating that it needs over $350 million in infrastructure improvements to meet its projected population of 17,000 people. Likewise, McKenzie County is looking at spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade roads and to build a new jail facility.
The second bill, that is equally critical for western North Dakota, would provide $800 million in surge funds to oil-impacted areas of the state. The surge funding is important so that cities and counties don’t lose the 2015 construction season.
For the past three legislative sessions, the oil-impacted counties and cities in western North Dakota have faced tough sledding when it comes to receiving the funding that they so desperately need to try to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of new residents that are pouring into the region seeking jobs in the oil industry.
And the results haven’t been all that pretty. Our county roads are continuously being destroyed and then rebuilt as a result of the heavy oilfield traffic. We have the highest apartment rent rates along with the fewest available housing units in the United States because local government doesn’t have the mechanism or the money to build roads, water and sewer lines to the new developments. Our schools are overcrowded and new schools can’t be built fast enough because the school districts have already maxed out their borrowing limits.
Finally, as shown is by this poll, the rest of North Dakota apparently has been hearing what their neighbors and friends in western North Dakota have been saying. And more importantly, they understand that the oil-impacted areas of the state do not receive enough state oil impact funding to meet their needs.
Hopefully, North Dakota legislators this session will listen to not only what western North Dakota has been saying for a long time, but to what nearly 50 percent of the state’s residents are now saying. Which is the oil-producing counties need to be getting more money.