Counties still hope to see infrastructure needs met

Alexandra Kautzman

BISMARCK – Living in Tioga, Williams County Commissioner Barry Ramberg is familiar with how bad his county’s roads are. He said the old, unpaved roads make vehicles shake terribly and kick up so much dust it’s becoming a serious health concern. Ramberg said like other infrastructure needs, dust control is a project the county can’t afford.

“The county is where this oil money is created and then it winds up in the Legacy Fund and it’s just sitting there,” Ramberg said. “I’m not for spending money just because we have money to spend but I believe that the oil extraction and oil production taxes should offset oil impacts. We have lots of impact around here that hasn’t been fixed and we could use more funding.”

21. Fort Totten, North Dakota     • Poverty rate:  66.3%     • Median household income:  $22,917     • Adults with a bachelor's degree:  2.0%     • Total population:  1,247 Fort Totten, North Dakota, located in the Spirit Lake Reservation, has a poverty rate of 66.3% -- the highest in the state. Additionally, most households in Fort Totten earn less than $23,000 a year.  Like many of the poorest communities in the United States, Fort Totten's residents are largely Native American -- one of the most economically disadvantaged demographics in the United States. One reason is a lack of economic opportunities on Indian reservations. In Fort Totten, an average of 15.2% of the labor force have been unemployed in the last five years, nearly triple the comparable national average.     ALSO READ: The Income a Family Really Needs to Avoid Poverty in Every State

The $680-million bonding package cleared the Senate last week, but after the Senate had turned aside amendments that would have raised the total to $1.1 billion. It now goes to Gov. Doug Burgum. Introduced by Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, the House majority leader, House Bill 1431 would use the state’s Legacy Fund to make bonding available for infrastructure projects across the state.

North Dakota: West Fargo     • Population:  34,419     • 5 yr. population change:  +27.4%     • Median home value:  $228,100     • Median household income:  $81,051     • 5 yr. avg. unemployment:  1.5% West Fargo, the best city to live in North Dakota, is also among the fastest growing communities in the country. The number of people living in West Fargo increased by 27.4% in the last five years, well above the 3.6% national population growth rate. The city is also adding jobs rapidly, with overall employment climbing 17.9% between 2014 and 2018, well above the comparable 6.5% national job growth. The city's five-year average unemployment rate of 1.5% is considerably lower than the 5.9% national rate.  With a strong job market, people in West Fargo are less likely than most Americans to face serious financial hardship. The city's poverty rate of 7.4% is nearly half the 14.1% national rate.    ALSO READ: The Rules For Staying Open and Social Distancing in North Dakota

Ramberg was disappointed the final bill failed to include dedicated funding for township roads.

"I think they need to realize where all of this money that they're spending comes from and appropriate some back accordingly," Ramberg said. "They wouldn't have any money to spend if it wasn't for the people out in the townships." 

The package includes:

●       $435.5 million for the Fargo diversion project

●       $74.5 million to the resources trust fund

●       $50 million to the infrastructure revolving loan fund

●       $70 million to the highway fund

●       $50 million to North Dakota State University

After the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended against the $1.1-billion package, the full Senate unanimously passed the original $680-million version adopted earlier by the House.

34. Mandan, North Dakota     • Population:  20,613     • 5 yr. population change:  +14.2%     • Median home value:  $175,400     • Median household income:  $60,034 Residents of Mandan, North Dakota benefit from a low cost of living -- 13% lower than average nationwide -- a five-year average unemployment rate of 2.0%, and a violent crime rate that is less than half the national rate. Mandan residents also have access to jobs, entertainment, and cultural attractions in Bismarck, the state capital located on the opposite side the Missouri River.  Recently, business leaders, elected officials, and ordinary citizens established a committee to form a comprehensive plan to improve Mandan over the coming decade. The committee's accomplishments include broadened business support and incentives, the creation of annual festivals and events, public education improvements, and increased communication regarding local elections.    ALSO READ: This is the Fastest Shrinking Local Economy in North Dakota

Senator David Rust, R-Tioga, said he is interested in supporting the Fargo diversion project and the Mouse River flood control project, but he hopes to see funding – perhaps through the Resources Trust Fund – for other rural water infrastructure needs.

34. North Dakota     • Supermarket:  Hornbacher's     • Headquarters:  Fargo, North Dakota     • Year founded:  1951     • Best independent grocery store:  Bisman Community Food Co-op, Bismarck Hornbacher’s was a subsidiary of the major wholesale grocery distribution network SuperValu, until it was sold about a year ago to Coborn’s Inc. It operated four Cash Wise stores in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, just across the Minnesota border. Coborn’s continues to run the Hornbacher’s markets -- all six of them in the same area, also in the Fargo/Moorhead area -- under their original name.     ALSO READ: Most Popular Grocery Store In Every State

And while he wishes new funding could be made available for township roads, Rust said he supports the $50 million earmarked or the NDSU agriculture products development center. “We are an agricultural state and we need to keep agriculture at the forefront of our thinking because it’s what we do and we need to sustain that,” he said.

In written testimony to the Appropriation Committee, Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Shon Hocker urged support for establishment of a regional career academy, which would provide area students career and technical education through dual enrollment programs. That proposed funding also was stripped from the bonding bill.

Other local officials had pleaded for targeted assistance, including Stanley City Auditor Allyn Sveen, who told the Appropriations Committee he hoped the bill would make the city’s capital improvement project more affordable for residents. The project consists of sewer and street improvements as well as replacing failing infrastructure in historic residential neighborhoods.

Walsh County Commissioner Ernie Barta said maintaining bridges is one of his county’s biggest infrastructure needs. He said Walsh now has just under 500 bridges but closed quite a few in the past five years because they couldn't afford to replace them all.

“Any money that can be given our way for roads, bridges, you name it, we could sure use it,” Barta said. “It’s always going to big cities and the counties out west, we never get enough back here.”

Pierce County Commissioner Ashley Berg said there are a lot of projects that would benefit from bonds supported through the Legacy Fund. While the biggest issues are the roads and sewage systems, she said county schools and hospitals also need repairs. Berg said since every county has projects that would benefit from the bonding package, it is important to support infrastructure across the state.

“We all have to work together and help each other so our state can continue to be as wonderful as it is,” Berg said. “That’s the great part of North Dakota, we help our neighbors.”

Legislative leaders have indicated they hope to find other ways to support those local needs.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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