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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