City Of Williston Giving Menards A $5.7 Million Bribe

Menards is coming to Williston, which isn’t surprising. Williston, in the heart of the Bakken oil play, is booming so there are a lot of new businesses moving in. But apparently despite the city’s roaring economy Menards still had coaxed into town with a big ladle full of taxpayer gravy.

Big-box retailer Menards is coming to Williston, following action at a special meeting of the Williston City Commission Tuesday evening.

A standing-room only crowd of nearly 50 people learned of the announcement at City Hall.

Menards will be the first to locate on the new 200-acre Sand Creek Town Center, a development started by Casper, Wyo.-based Granite Peak Development.

“Williston is turning the corner on long-awaited retail development,” Mayor Ward Koeser said. …

Koeser told the audience that the city has committed a $5.7 million incentive package to help facilitate Tuesday’s activity.

“This is through three primary funding sources,” Koeser said.

A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District will be established, committing up to 15 years of increased property tax revenue to pay off the bonds.

The city of Williston is also committing up to $2,487,000 of sales tax revenue created from new retail stores. This will be over a period of nine years.

STAR Fund revenues of up to $1,771,954 will be committed.

Koeser said the STAR Fund would be up to $250,000 per year for nine years.

“It is anticipated that as other new businesses come into the 100-acre retail project the tax increment dollars would relieve the obligation of the STAR Fund to make these payments,” Koeser said.

Obviously, there’s some risk for a business moving into a community like Williston. If the oil boom turns into an oil bust, the Williston market without the oil play isn’t likely to support this kind of a store. But why should the taxpayers have to take the risk?

If the oil boom plays out – be it due to shifting markets or some new government regulation – and Menards leaves, it will be the taxpayers left holding the bag. Just as the taxpayers were left holding the bag in Fargo when Alien Technology folded up despite millions in economic development dollars lavished on the company. Just like taxpayers in Minot were left holding the bag when Websmart closed down.

I could cite other examples of these economic development boondoggles around the state, but you get my point. Everyone gets excited when a new business moves to town, but why don’t more people question the cozy relationship these companies develop with the local politicians who spoon out the pork?

And here’s another point: What about the existing businesses that Menards is going to be competing with? I love competition. I’m all for free markets. When businesses compete, citizens win. But is it really fair to expect the businesses already in Williston which have been paying taxes for decades to see those taxes go to bring in a business that’s going to compete with them?

Again, competition is fine. But existing businesses shouldn’t have to subsidize the entry of their rivals into their market.

Everything about this move stinks. But it’s become a common story. The politicians and their corporate cronies will smile for the cameras, the journalists won’t ask any questions, and the taxpayers will foot the bill whether Menards stays for the long haul or pulls a cut and run.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of 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.

Related posts