Strange Priorities In Western North Dakota

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Back in 2011, voters in Williston, North Dakota, cast their ballots in favor of a half-cent sales tax increase to fund the cities parks. Keep in mind that Williston is in the heart of the Bakken oil boom, and that sales tax revenues in the city have grown dramatically as a result. The city had $250 million more in in taxable sales than Fargo, which has a metro population nearly 10 times larger than Williston’s.

This chart shows Williston’s dramatic rise in sales tax revenues compared to the state’s four largest cities.

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Committing that amount of revenue to parks in a city where growing road, sewer and water infrastructure to keep up population growth has been a challenge has always seemed a little insane to me. And the spending decisions being made with that windfall in tax revenues prove my point. Williston is building, with funds from this sales tax increase, what is being described as the largest municipal water park in the nation complete with an indoor surfing facility.

Meanwhile, a vote on taxes raising money for school improvements in the city (dramatic population growth has meant dramatic enrollment growth) just went down in flames:

Nearly two thousand voters came to the polls in Williston yesterday and said “no” to a plan to raise 55 million dollars for school improvements and building projects.

The final vote tally showed 1415 against the plan and only 551 in favor.

A second question that would have allowed a much smaller tax increase also failed.

Williston Superintendent Dr. Viola LaFontaine says the votes leave the district in a money crunch, but leaders will regroup and come up with another way to deal with the influx of students caused by the oil boom in the region.

Here’s an idea: How about holding off on the indoor surfing facility until you have enough classroom space for all the school kids?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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