Cities Journal
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North Dakota Cities Bleeding Money Because Of Oil Boom


The North Dakota oil boom that started in 2006 and is still going on has had positive effects on the state’s finances. It ensured that North Dakota report the lowest unemployment numbers in the country. It also greatly enhanced the per capita gross domestic product, something North Dakota struggled with historically.

However, there are dissenting voices rising, coming from local communities, certain counties and cities; saying that the oil boom is making them bleed money on infrastructure, emergency services and law enforcement.

One of the counties most negatively affected is Dunn County which is seeing a dramatic rise in service costs and not nearly as significant a rise in tax revenue. Crime figures in the county jumped by 60 percent and road maintenance budget alone went from $1.5 million to $25 million. At the moment, the gap is widening. In McKenzie County, emergency services historically responded maybe five times in one month. Today, they have five responses a day. All of this costs money.

The city of Williston is struggling with road maintenance and also with housing issues. The boom caused the housing costs to explode and the only way in which the city and the county could provide housing and office space for county employees was to buy a building and also build another one. The city of Dickinson never had any debt before and today, they owe $100 million in bonds.

One of the biggest problems and causes for concern are the crazily-fluctuating prices of crude oil which are at the basis of all budget projections. Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart said that the budget projections have come down to randomly picking a number, more or less.

Shawn Kessel, Dickinson City Manager perhaps put it best when asked whether the city and the county are better off because of the boom,

“Short term – No; Long Term – Sure hope so.”

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