February 27, 2013

Making Watford a better place

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

When Watford City enacted a one cent city sales tax back in 1998, the thought was the funds could be used to help attract new businesses to the community and to help existing businesses improve their store fronts.
Who would ever have dreamed  that the fund which was originally generating around $93,000 a year would someday see the Roughrider Fund collecting in excess of $2 million a year.
But thanks to the oil boom in McKenzie County, that is exactly what is happening and in the last two years, the committee that oversees the Roughrider Fund has fundamentally changed the projects that they are using to make improvements to Watford City.
“It is truly amazing how such a small thing, such as a penny sales tax, can make such a huge difference in our community,” states Jody Renbarger, chairman of the Roughrider Fund. “You have to wonder where our community would be without this fund.”
With the huge influx of money flowing into the Roughrider Fund, committee members are no longer looking at how to attract new businesses to the community or to provide grants to businesses for improvements. Instead, Renbarger and four other committee members sit down monthly to review and pore over applications for financial assistance that will truly make Watford City a better place to live.
“Today, we are trying to give the money to entities, such as the park district, the fair board, the Heritage Park and others, that will make the community a better place to live and that will make a difference to the people that live here,” states Renbarger. “But we’ve also shifted our funding priorities to be able to meet the service and infrastructure needs of the community.”
Which explains why in the past year, the Roughrider Fund has allocated $1 million for the Wolf Run and Wolf Pup Daycare projects, $250,000 to the Prairie Heights housing project being built by Lutheran Social Services, $500,000 to the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems for an apartment complex, $600,000 towards the new Connie Wold Wellness Center, $65,000 to the McKenzie County Ambulance Service for trained paramedics and $36,000 to help the Anova Family Health Clinic open.
“Watford City really needs to have housing to recruit and retain essential employees such as law enforcement, city and county workers and in our healthcare system,” states Renbarger. “By using Roughrider Funds, we have been able to bring affordable housing to these critical areas of the community. And by providing funds for the new daycare center, we are to get the rates for those who needs daycare from $7 per hour to a range that is affordable.”
While Renbarger states that the Roughrider Fund only provides a portion, normally less than 15 percent, of the total project, the importance of the city sales tax assistance cannot be understated.
“Our contribution to the LSS housing project allowed them to be able to receive a much larger state grant,” stated Renbarger. “Likewise, without the $1 million we put into the Wolf Run project, the rents would have been prohibitive.”
But while providing funds to help bring affordable housing to the community has become a high priority for the Roughrider Fund Committee, Renbarger noted that providing financial assistance to the ambulance service was also a critical need.
“We (the community) were literally wearing out the volunteers who are serving on the ambulance service due to the tremendous increase that we’ve seen in calls,” stated Renbarger. “We believed it was important to help the ambulance service pay for qualified paramedics.”
While Renbarger states that for the foreseeable future, the lion’s share of the Roughrider Fund will continue to be used to help meet major community needs, the committee also provides Community Enhancement grants that communities in McKenzie County can apply for to promote community events.
“The Roughrider Fund is all about putting the money that we collect from the people in McKenzie County back into our communities,” states Renbarger. “We want the money to be able to make a difference.”
And with $2 million a year flowing into the Roughrider Fund, Renbarger believes that the benefits are already being seen.