April 29, 2014

Roughrider Fund’s fate rests in voter’s hands

(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.
Over the next several weeks, the McKenzie County Farmer will be doing a 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
If you ask Jody Renbarger if Watford City’s Roughrider Fund has made a significant impact to the residents of Watford City, she is quick to say that the community would not be the same without it.
“The Roughrider Fund makes great things happen in Watford City,” states Renbarger, who has served on the committee for the past 10 years and is currently serving as the committee chairperson.
Because of the city sales tax, the Roughrider Fund has been able to help our local healthcare system, the Connie Wold Wellness Center, the Children’s Playground, Wolf Run Village and the Wolf Pup Daycare, as well as the McKenzie County Multi-Purpose Building, the McKenzie County Veterans Memorial Building and a host of other community projects.
“Since its inception, the Roughrider Fund has raised in excess of $7 million,” states Renbarger. “And those dollars have been invested throughout the community. The projects that the Roughrider Fund have been involved with have literally touched every age group in the community from our youth to our senior citizens.”
According to Renbarger, the Roughrider Committee, which is appointed by the Watford City City Council, is responsible for reviewing all applications for funding and then takes a recommendation to the city council for final approval.
“The Roughrider Fund has several funding options to help a project become a reality,” states Renbarger. “We do interest buy-downs, low interest loans and grants. We tailor what we do based on the project.”
But, according to Renbarger, every project is evaluated by the committee before they recommend funding. And even when approved, a project may be subject to several stipulations.
“It’s not free money,” states Renbarger. “It’s tax dollars and we want to ensure that those dollars are wisely spent and that they meet the needs of the community.”
And today, according to Renbarger, it is hard to look around Watford City and not see the positive benefits that the one cent city sales tax has had on the community.
“In addition to all of the major projects that the one cent city sales tax has allowed us to help, we’ve also been able to provide money to the Chamber of Commerce, the McKenzie County Fair and virtually every community celebration,” states Renbarger. “The city sales tax has truly enriched the lives of the people living here.”

History And Growth Of
The Roughrider Fund
Watford City residents first passed a one cent city sales tax in 1998 with the purpose of the fund to help in economic development efforts, create jobs and help city businesses improve their store fronts.
“When city residents first passed a one cent city sales tax, times were definitely different in Watford City than they are today,” states Renbarger. “Back then, we were trying to do everything that we could to help bring jobs and business to town. Today, that is no longer our emphasis.”
From its humble start in 1998 when the fund took in around $100,000 a year, today the fund generates over $2 million a year.
According to Renbarger, the fund started to see considerable growth around 2010, when the one cent tax generated $47,173. But as the energy boom began in McKenzie County, the fund started to grow exponentially.
“In 2011, the tax revenue almost doubled as $980,170 was collected,” states Renbarger. “But the real growth came in 2010 when just over $2 million was collected.”
And according to Renbarger, the growth has continued in recent years.
“Last year was a record year in collections as we collected $2.2 million,” states Renbarger. “But we should easily surpass that amount in 2014 as we collected just over $1 million in the first quarter of the year. And that three-month period is historically the lowest months of sales tax collections.”

Why A 1½ City
Sales Tax Is Needed
With the city’s sales tax set to expire this September, Renbarger hopes that the 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 cents 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 cent city sales tax and we felt that a half-cent increase was an appropriate increase.”
According to Voll, the one half cent increase would generate between $300,000 and $450,000 per month to the Roughrider Fund. And that increase is critical as the two major projects, a new replacement healthcare facility and a city events center, are being developed.
“The healthcare system needs a commitment of $700,000 a year from the Roughrider Fund going forward to help pay for the new healthcare facility,” states Voll. “And the new events center will require a commitment of $1.5 million per year.”
While those are two of the bigger projects currently on tap that will be relying on city sales tax receipts, there are also other pressing issues that Voll says need to be addressed.
“We are looking at significant improvements that need to be made at our airport in the coming years, as well as addressing the issue of the lack of affordable and senior housing,” states Voll. “Without the continuation of the city sales tax, none of these projects will happen.”
“The city sales tax is a great tax,” states Voll. “It’s not a tax that is only paid by Watford City residents. But rather it is a tax that is paid by everyone who shops in Watford City.”
And taxing those people who shop in Watford City, but don’t live within the city limits, is a good way to help build needed facilities in the community.
“When you shop in Williston, Minot or Bismarck or any other town that has a city sales tax, you are helping that community build its facilities,” states Voll. “People today can’t avoid paying a city sales tax most anywhere you shop in North Dakota.”
But for Renbarger, the city sales tax is all about building Watford City for the people of Watford City.
“We wouldn’t have a modern Main Street without the Roughrider Fund and the city sales tax,” states Renbarger. “Nor would we have a water park, a new golf course clubhouse, a wellness center or many of the recreation programs for our children. The Watford City city sales tax has had a positive impact on everyone in Watford City.”
And as Watford City’s population grows, Renbarger sees the city sales tax as being the perfect vehicle to help build the facilities that are going to be needed.
“The goal of the Roughrider Fund in the future is to help provide the services and infrastructure that we, as a community, need,” states Renbarger. “And those needs are in healthcare, daycare, senior citizens, parks and recreation and housing. We need a 1½ cent city sales tax to help meet those needs.”