It’s become something of a cliche in the world of public policy for policymakers to stretch the definition of “infrastructure” to fit pet projects. After all, most Americans agree that infrastructure is one of the most important functions of government. So when politicians brand some project as infrastructure, they do so hoping the project will be looked on sympathetically by voters.
That’s what Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, whose intemperate rants about state policymakers underfunding western North Dakota needs, is trying to do with his city’s new $56 million water park. Sanford claims the project is as important to his city as roads.
WATFORD CITY — Leaders in this booming town say a $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center is key to keeping working families in the community.
If approved, the project would be funded with city sales taxes and a gross oil production tax loan program designed for critical city infrastructure.
Mayor Brent Sanford said the city is making the case that an indoor pool, event venue for up to 3,000 people, indoor walking track and other amenities are vital to attracting and retaining a workforce in Watford City.
“This is as critical as pipes and streets,” Sanford said. “If you don’t have it all, your community is not whole and you’re not a desirable place to live.”
You know what also makes a place a desirable place to live? Good roads and adequate law enforcement.
Keep in mind that Sanford once blamed the deaths of two teenagers on the highway near Watford City on state leaders. He once described western North Dakota roads as “an absolute horror story,” even though crash rates in the western part of the state at the time told a much different story.
Sanford is also part of a group of western North Dakota leaders who are demanding that legislators hold a special session to address needs in the oil patch. Now we’re to believe Sanford when he tells us that a water park is as important as improving roads?
I think that illustrates a major disconnect in priorities. It is more than a little unseemly for a local mayor who is demanding that taxpayers across the state send more funds to his community to address desperate infrastructure needs while he’s simultaneously branding a lavish waterpark as critical infrastructure.
This is the same stung the City of Williston pulled, building a $76 million water park even while crying to the state about a lack of funding for roads, sewer and law enforcement.
I think we can all understand the impulse to want to improve one’s community, but when leaders like Brent Sanford start telling us that a water park is critical infrastructure, it might be time to stop taking them seriously. In fact, it might be time to start thinking that some western leaders are using oil impacts as an excuse to demand more money from state taxpayers while they use local tax dollars to fund pet projects.
Those aren’t priorities that are good for anyone.