Oil county passes ‘mind-boggling’ budget, increased 93 percent over 2014
WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- McKenzie County commissioners have approved a whopping budget of $188.8 million, a 93 percent increase over 2014, as North Dakota's largest oil producing county tries to keep up with booming growth. "It's mind-boggling for a...
WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- McKenzie County commissioners have approved a whopping budget of $188.8 million, a 93 percent increase over 2014, as North Dakota’s largest oil producing county tries to keep up with booming growth.
“It's mind-boggling for an old rancher,” McKenzie County Commissioner Ron Anderson, who has served on the board for 16 years, said before Tuesday’s commission meeting.
The budget is mostly comprised of road department expenditures, which have more than doubled from $67.1 million to $135.5 million.
Commissioners are banking on a portion of the GOP-proposed $800 million surge funding bill for early construction, introduced in September.
The surge funding is on top of funding that comes from North Dakota’s oil production tax, which is expected to be a hot topic during the state legislative session that starts in January.
Anderson said if the county does not receive $50 million in surge funds, the road budget will dramatically decrease.
Although appreciative of state funding the county has received in the past, he said it hasn’t been enough.
“If we can get the increases, we have a six-year plan in the county that would put us in pretty darn good shape by 2020,” he said.
Commissioners approved $13 million for a new jail, about one-third of the estimated $40 million cost, said Anderson, who thinks the final number may be more. The two-year project would create a 100- to 120-bed facility - a significant improvement from the current nine-bed jail.
With approval of the budget, the county plans to hire 45 full-time employees, the majority for the sheriff's and road departments. However, Anderson said filling the jobs “will never happen” without more housing.
“We wouldn’t have any problem at all if we had affordable housing,” he said.
Two projects slated to provide essential and workforce housing are expected to be completed by fall 2015, Anderson said, adding the county hopes to partner with Fargo-based Lutheran Social Services on one of the projects.
A two-bedroom apartment goes for between $3,000 and $4,000 a month. Anderson aims to slash that to about $1,000 to $1,100.
The county also will hire an assistant state's attorney and a victim's witness advocate to handle the increase in population and crime.
In Watford City, the seat for McKenzie County, commissioners approved their budget of $104 million, an increase of 216 percent from last year, Monday night.
More than 80 percent of the budget is comprised of two projects: $60 million for an event center and $22 million for a new sewage treatment plant to accommodate a growing population.
The first phase of the treatment plant will meet the needs of 7,500 people - much of the current population lives in “sub-standard accommodations” that have their own septic systems, Mayor Brent Sanford said.
The event center was supported by taxpayers and became the centerpiece for passing a sales tax increase. The center will supplement the new $51 million high school by drawing the community in for indoor basketball courts, hockey areas and a swimming pool.
“We need to be a family friendly place for these energy workers to want to settle down and call this home,” said Sanford.
Watford City commissioners have infrastructure plans for an expected 15,000 population for a town that had 1,744 people in the U.S. 2010 census.
“I decided to run for mayor because the drilling rigs moved this way and I knew it was going to become serious and there would be challenges ahead,” Sanford said. “The planning is just staying ahead of it.”
Kathleen J. Bryan and the Williston Herald contributed to this report.