Williston’s Lame Response To Credit Rating Downgrade

williston mayor ward koeser

For some time now we here at SAB have been pointing out the City of Williston’s poor spending priorities (latest post here). In the midst of an oil boom, with the local economy and population growing faster than the city could keep up with, city leaders backed and got approved a 1% sales tax increase…for the park district. Half of that increase is going to a lavish, $70 million palace of a recreation center that will include indoor surfing.

Now, with $45 million in debt, the City of Williston just got a downgrade on its credit rating, but don’t worry. Mayor Ward Koeser says that totally doesn’t have anything to do with the rec center:

Koeser said some have questioned why the city is in the process of building a $70 million recreation center while also responding to major infrastructure needs. But it’s the Williston Park and Recreation District, not the city, that borrowed for that project.

Standard & Poor’s recently gave the park district ratings of A and A-, indicating a stable outlook.

Williston residents approved a 1-cent sales tax for the facility, with half going to the park district and half to the building project. It will expire in 20 years or when the building is paid for.

This is specious. Koeser and other city leaders backed the sales tax increase for the parks. That was their priorities. Now sales tax revenue that is serving a $70 million rec center isn’t serving the city’s $45 million in debt.

Koeser says, earlier in the article, that the city leaders have wanted to be “conservative” with tax increases during the boom time. Fair enough. But you’d think the one tax increase they did pass – a sales tax increase in the city that has, of late, been leading the state in taxable sales – should have been directed at more urgent priorities than a rec center.

Williston, clearly, needs better leadership.

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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  • Clarence A. Herz

    It is time for political change in Williston. You have a small town mayor running a growing city.

    • zdavid53

      Mayer Koeser has done a stellar job in the face of overwhelming problems. He has worked tirelessly to work out solutions to difficult problems. Follow him around for a week and then, if you still have the energy left, you can make comments about the job he is doing!

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Just because Mayor Koeser does a lot of things doesn’t mean he’s doing the right things.

        Williston’s financial problems are of Williston’s creation.

        • zdavid53

          It would be fun to meet you next time you are in Williston. There is agreement with a lot of the things you talk about. Coping with an almost impossible situation is one of the things that is being dealt with right now. Look me up!!!

    • zdavid53

      Mayor Koeser is doing a stellar job in the face of overwhelming problems. Maybe you should follow him around for a week and then if you have the energy left you can then make comments!

      • Simon

        You’re either the mayor’s publicist or biographer, or angling for the job. Good luck with that. Just don’t sleep with him. That will get everyone fired.

      • Guest Observer

        Hey it’s Baghdad Bob!!

  • zdavid53

    Its amazing how poeple not living or working in oil impacted areas look down their noses at a rec center in Williston. This rec center will be paid for by people in Williston. This is not about the rec center. Greedy special interest groups who want money for their own uses are driving this argument. This is about billions of dollars of oil impact money. Greedy entities want this money for special interests. The extraction tax was supposed to be used to accumulate money for oil impact. Any and all needs related to oil impact in the oil producing cities and countys should be taken care of. Isn’t that what the tax was for? This pile of money has attracted a hord of greedy special interests. Lets use this money as it was meant to be used. Lets do the right thing. Lets allocate whatever funding that is necessary to take care of the oil related impacts and then split the money up to all parts of the state. Lets not allow greedy special interest groups to abscound with the money as they did in the 80’s and then leave towns like Williston holding the bag. How absurd is the argument that “Well, if they can build this, they don’t really need help”. Lets take care of the needs that were used to create this tax in the first place!!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Oh give me a break. The rec center is a boondoggle. Williston has poor spending priorities, but wants to blame the state for the problem.

      • zdavid53

        Here is Bismarck spending 150 million on an event center. Alerus cerner in Grand Forks. The Y all over the state. Can’t Williston have something nice.
        Fargo wanting flood protection from oil money. Grand Forks got flood protection. The state looked the other way only when Williston needed help. Why is it so hard to understand that oil impact money should fund the countys and citys impacted by oil related damages before greedy other special interests get their hands on the money. It’s almost like having 8 brothers in life and one stays to run the family farm. Then when a couple of things go right, the other 7 come back and demand their share of the profits!!

    • cylde

      Who are these greedy special interests? Do they have a name? What are they planning exactly? Are boogey men real? Could the rec center wait until actual critical infrastructure was completed?

      • zdavid53

        Greedy special interests are people or entities who think oil impact moneys are not related to the damage to roads or impacts to infrastructure that are caused by the oil related activities. They only see the huge amount of money that has been generated by the oil activity, and start dreaming about how that money could be used for special projects that might benefit their part of the state. The relationship of oil generated money to their special projects does not exist.zdavid53

    • Guest Observer

      You are a special kind of stupid aren’t you?

      • zdavid53

        This doesn’t even deserve an answer

        • Guest Observer

          And yet you responded.

          • zdavid53

            The response was similar to yours. No topic, no substance, and no thought.

          • Guest Observer

            Another response? LOL! Glad I can live rent free in your head.

          • zdavid53

            Come up with an idea or thought or something.

          • Guest Observer

            Back for more, incredible! If I am going to continue to live in your head, I must insist I will not do dishes or take out the trash.

          • zdavid53

            OK—-stupid is stupid does

          • Guest Observer

            Thank you for making my day!

          • zdavid53

            So nice that this is the high point of YOUR day.

          • Guest Observer

            :)

  • nimrod

    Williston officials brush off the downgrading, but it is a big deal. Their cost of funds through bonds will increase dramatically, probably a 50% increase in cost. AAA rated bonds sell at an amount returning 1% to the holder, but BBB rated bonds will require at least 1.5% return. It is hard to find a municipal bond issued from anywhere in ND that is rated below AAA.

  • Slickwilly

    Credit ratings are overrated. I don’t put any stock into them. Most people look at the credit rating or number and not the credit history. This is like Bill Gates getting a bad credit number. Williston will be just fine. Houses are coming online everyday out there. Willistons income is literally growing everyday.

    • nimrod

      Bond ratings are not over-rated. Bond ratings are much different than personal credit ratings. Bond ratings measure how adequate the taxing power of the community covers the bond. Personal credit ratings are mainly a measure of repayment history. I would argue both are very important if you need them.

      • zdavid53

        You are exactly right. If the oil situation suddenly turned, Williston would again be holding the bag, only this time the bag would be bigger. Credit raters understand this. That is another reason why it is so critical for the state to do what is right. How can the generation of so many funds be meet with so little consideration when it comes to needs?

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Part of the problem here is the Williston voter. The voters wanted the rec center, even though it’s ridiculous. My own town is doing the same thing (although on a more modest scale). While the leaders bear some responsibility, we cannot forget the voters.

    By the way, I’ll be voting against the rec center in my town.

    • zdavid53

      The real problem in Williston is lack of things to do,etc. Why are outside people so concerned how Williston taxes itself. Williston hasn’t asked for a dime to help with the new rec center. Go ahead and vote against your future. Unlike you, I don’t care how you spend your money in your town.

  • TexasJew

    I have lived in over two dozen oil boom towns since I was a kid. And let me tell you, this the dumbest bastard I’ve ever seen in any of them.

    • zdavid53

      Drifter!!

  • jamermorrow

    Wait until interest rates start to rise. Many municipalities, states, and the federal government are not going to be able to pay their debts back.

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