May 27, 2014

City sales tax critical for new healthcare facility

(Editor’s Note: On June 10, Watford City voters will be asked to decide on continuing the city’s sales tax and increasing it from one percent to 1½ percent.
This is the fourth of a four-part series of stories on the Roughrider Fund, as well as the main projects that the fund will be asked to contribute to in the future.)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The McKenzie County Healthcare Systems has all of its financial pieces in place for a new $59 million replacement facility that will include a new 24-bed critical access hospital, a new clinic, and a new nursing home complex with 47 private resident rooms, some of which will be designed for couples at the Good Shepherd Home.
All of the financial pieces, except for one. And that one missing piece is a long-term commitment of city sales tax funds from the Roughrider Fund.
“The Bank of North Dakota has approved a $12.5 million loan for this project,” states Dan Kelly, CEO of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems. “We are confident that we will receive approval on our $39 million USDA loan. So all that is missing, to make this much needed project a reality, is our local funding from the Roughrider Fund.”
Which is why Kelly says it is vitally important that Watford City voters pass the city sales tax initiative on June 10.
The city sales tax initiative, which will increase the city’s sales tax from one to one and a half percent, not only allows for the support of a new healthcare replacement facility, but other city enhancements as well. Among those projects being proposed that will rely on future city sales tax funds is the new events center, improvements at the airport, increased parks and recreational opportunities, more affordable housing and a host of other needs.
“All of these projects are important to the people of Watford City and the surrounding area,” states Kelly. “And they will help make Watford City a destination community for families who want to work in the area.”
Since 1998, 24 percent of the Roughrider Fund has gone to the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems for projects, such as the new Connie Wold Wellness Center, that have improved the lives of the people of McKenzie County.
Kelly is the first to admit that the existing hospital, clinic and nursing home are no longer adequate to meet the city’s and region’s growing demand for healthcare services.
“We are certainly undersized in our current clinic and hospital when it comes to serving the number of patients that we are seeing in our clinic and emergency room,” states Kelly. “And our hospital lab is too small to meet the huge increase in the number of tests that we are running.”
According to Kelly, the hospital is still operating in a building that was constructed in 1952, while the Good Shepherd Nursing Home was built in the early 1960s and the clinic building was constructed in the 1980s.
“We’re spending our money wisely when it comes to the new hospital and clinic,” states Kelly. “It is a very efficient design. We’re dedicating the money to meeting patient care, and we are allowing for growth into such areas as obstetrics, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and pediatrics.”
According to Kelly, the healthcare system has committed to raising $15.5 million in local funds, a portion of which would come from the Roughrider Fund.
“The Benefit Fund of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems will be responsible for our local fundraising effort,” stated Kelly. “And to date, they have already raised over half a million dollars in early commitments.”
But, according to Kelly, without a long-term commitment from the Roughrider Fund, the entire project will fall through.
With the city’s sales tax set to expire this September, Jody Renbarger, who is the Roughrider Fund chairman, hopes that city’s residents will recognize the importance that the fund has been to Watford City’s past. And what a huge role the continuation of the city sales tax will have in the future.
“We, as a city, desperately need the city sales tax,” states Renbarger. “Considering all of the things that we need to do in the city in the coming years, I don’t know how they will get accomplished without the tax.”
Likewise, Justin Voll, city councilman and chairman of the Home Rule Charter Committee, says that he hopes voters will realize the benefits that the city sales tax have accomplished and be willing to increase the tax to 1½  percent in the June vote.
“As a city council, we want our city sales tax to be below that which is being charged in neighboring cities in the region,” states Voll. “Most cities in western North Dakota, such as Williston and Minot, have a two percent city sales tax and we felt that a half-percent increase was an appropriate increase.”
According to Voll, the one-half percent increase would generate between $300,000 and $450,000 per month to the Roughrider Fund. And that increase is critical to help fund the new projects being developed.