January 11, 2012

Pennies fuel local economic development

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Watford City’s Roughrider Fund has seen ups and downs since its 1998 initiation, but it is proof that a small, rural town can accomplish anything.
It was started in 1998 for the purpose of updating Watford City’s Main Street, bettering Watford City and its surrounding communities, and bolstering economic and job development in the area, a task it has definitely accomplished.
Throughout the area, Watford City has become known as a “Progressive Little Town,” a label it could not have received without the Roughrider Fund.
“Fundraising only goes so far and the city doesn’t have a lot of extra funds,” states Jody Renbarger, chairman of the Roughrider Committee.
Renbarger became the committee’s chairman in December, when former chairman, Jim Svihovec stepped down. Renbarger has served on the committee for eight years and really believes in what the Roughrider Fund does for the community.
“This one percent city sales tax has given our community the ability to provide things it would have otherwise been unable to,” states Renbarger.
One penny out of every dollar spent in Watford City supports the Roughrider Fund, and in 2011, it received a lot of pennies.
Just over 98 million pennies to be exact, giving the Roughrider Committee nearly $1 million to reinvest back into the community, but also forcing them to make some tough decisions.
 “The funds go out as fairly as we can manage, but we really try to make sure they go toward things that will better this community and that people want to see done,” states Renbarger.
With Watford City growing and the Roughrider Fund receiving considerably more than it has in the past, Renbarger states that the committee is currently trying to refocus their efforts toward improving infrastructure and services that benefit the city.
“Not all businesses coming into Watford City need help,” Renbarger states. “We want to focus on those infrastructure and service needs that will help our city be balanced, like emergency and senior services, parks and outlets like the wellness center.”
And, since a good portion of the growth and development coming into Watford City is oil industry-centered, these areas could really suffer without that support.
According to Renbarger, in 2011, the Roughrider Fund aided in putting up a building for the Northwest Dakota Public Transport Service, the building of the new wellness center, and helping to renovate the Watford City city parks. In addition, it donated the local share to secure a federal grant for repairs to the Watford City Airport and resealing of its runway.
Not only that, but every February the Roughrider Fund gives out enhancement grants to communities in McKenzie County for annual and special events and marketing expenses.
“The money is to be used for community projects and events that area residents can partake in and enjoy,” states Renbarger, again stressing the need to support things that give back to the community.
The Roughrider Committee is a subcommittee appointed by the city council. They accept applications, and according to Renbarger, review each application according to its own merits.
Once they have reviewed an application for funds, it goes to the city council, where another set of eyes looks it over and delivers a final decision.
The Roughrider Fund one percent city sales tax comes to a vote again in 2014.
It is the hope of Renbarger and other committee members that what the fund is able to accomplish and provide Watford City is seen in a positive light, so that the fund can continue to exist and give back to the community that supports it.