March 25, 2014

More city sales tax needed for growth

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Watford City residents will be asked to increase the city’s current one-cent city sales tax by an additional one-half percent to help meet the growing needs of the community during the upcoming June election.
While Watford City’s City Council has still not finalized the language of the measure that will appear on the ballot, the city’s Home Rule Charter Committee is already laying groundwork for the vote.
“We need to look at what Watford City is going to be needing in the way of new facilities to meet the extreme growth that the community is experiencing,” stated Jessie Veeder during a public forum last Monday. “And the Roughrider Fund is a perfect way to help finance the new projects that are being planned.”
Watford City first enacted a one-cent city sales tax in 1989. And according to Veeder, since that time, the Roughrider Fund has poured over $5 million in grants into projects that have improved the community and the quality of life for people living in the area.
Because of the Roughrider Fund, and the one-cent city sales tax, according to Veeder, new facilities such as the Children’s Playground, the Connie Wold Wellness Center and  the Wild West Water Park, to name just a few, have been constructed. In addition, the fund has been able to assist in the expansion of the clubhouse at the golf course, bring more affordable housing to the community, aid in the development of Main Street, and assist in the development of more daycare in the community.
“We’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good things in Watford City because of the one-cent city sales tax,” stated Veeder. “But with the population growth that Watford City will be experiencing in the coming years, the Roughrider Fund is going to need more money.”
According to Veeder, the increase in city sales tax is needed to help finance the new hospital and clinic facility, as well as to assist with funding the emergency services in the county.
“We have to look at the quality of life that we want to be available to have, such as a new community events center and improved parks and recreation,” stated Veeder. “An increase in the Roughrider Fund will provide the city with the means to do that. In addition, we know that we are going to have to have money to improve our airport and to continue working to provide senior housing and other affordable housing in the community.”
According to Justin Voll, city councilman and also a member of the Watford City Home Rule Charter Committee, even if Watford City were to raise its city sales tax by one-half cent, it would still be lower than what is being taxed in other area cities.
“Currently, Williston, Minot and Fargo all have a two-cent city sales tax, while Crosby has a three-cent city sales tax,” stated Voll. “The city council believes that increasing our city sales tax to 1½ cents will allow us to accomplish what we need to do in the future. We see it as a way for the city to pay for some of the larger projects that we have because of the lack of state funds.”
Voll also noted that there is currently a sales tax cap of $25 on each purchase and that the cap would remain in effect.
Currently, according to Voll, the city’s sales tax is generating between $200,000 and $250,000 per month.
One of the benefits that Dan Kelly, CEO of McKenzie County Healthcare Systems sees in increasing the tax is that the vast majority of the funds will come from non-city residents.
“In reality, the bulk of the sales tax will be paid by oil-related industries that are making purchases in Watford City,” stated Kelly.
According to Kelly, the new healthcare system, the new events center, as well as the other projects being proposed in the future are the economic drivers for the community.
“The new healthcare system replacement facility, the airport, the events center and more affordable housing all bring new people to live in our community,” stated Kelly. “This is really about making an investment in our community so that people will want to move here instead of to Williston, Tioga or Stanley.”
For Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, the funds generated by the city sales tax have been used well in the past and will continue to be spent wisely in the future.
“We’ve been using the Roughrider Fund for family-friendly projects. It’s what makes our community different.”