North Dakota Oil Counties Got Greedy, Now They're Paying For It

Senator Dwight Cook’s decision to strip a bill funding oil impacts in western North Dakota of $303 million in funding was a prudent one. It wasn’t a “no” to the funding. It was an effort to get western governments, counties and cities, to come in to the legislature and demonstrate that they actually need the money.

That’s as it should be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the western communities have earned themselves this additional scrutiny.

The reaction from the west has been petulant. The Williston Herald editorializes today that they’ve lost “confidence” in the legislature, but what’s required to earn back that confidence? Indiscriminate spending in the west?

The City of Williston has been the worst offender in poor fiscal management during the oil boom. Even as the city faces bond rating downgrades, they committed a local sales tax increase to parks, and used the resulting windfall to build a huge new water recreation facility that is far in excess of the needs of the community.

The city is also guilty of exaggerating oil impacts. In the fall of last year it was revealed that the city’s estimate for school enrollment increases were off by 80%.

Nor is Williston the only community guilty of playing politics with oil impacts. Recently Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford was trying to hang the deaths of two teenagers in a car crash around the necks of state leaders. Sanford’s knee-jerk finger-pointing was both unfair, based on the facts, and inappropriate. Yet, sadly in the norm when it comes to the politiciking of western communities.

We all want safe roads. We all want good schools. We all want the state to keep up with oil impacts driving economic and social growth. But our elected leaders have a responsibility to be prudent in the expenditure of our tax dollars.

That’s not a responsibility they very often meet, so let’s not trash them when they refuse to spend indiscriminately in the face of sensational demands from out west.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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