Saturday, May 11, 2013

Boom and Bust: The Financial Pressures of Williston North Dakota

            The town of Williston is currently experiencing tremendous growth, which has both positive and negative affects on the community. North Dakota has gone from being the nation’s ninth-biggest oil producer in 2006 to the second-biggest, behind only Texas. The city experienced this type of growth surge in the 1970s through the 1980s, as well as the remnants of the boom during the bust phase of the cycle, including: vacant apartments, unoccupied mobile home parks, empty businesses, and huge public debt from the infrastructure investments that had been made to accommodate growth.

The Bakken Formation - North Dakota, Montana, Canada - OIL            A major question facing the community policymakers, business owners, residents, and community leaders is how can the city accommodate growth without sacrificing the quality of life. While the oil industry brings benefits to the

Shale oil formation

community, they are not always felt equally by citizens. Some businesses experience tremendous growth, while others suffer profit losses or face closure due to the inability to pay comparable wages that the oil industry can offer. The residential sector feels similar pains of inequality as some people sell their properties at high rates, while others face sky rocketing rental prices due to over demand for rental housing. Some cite rents for a one bedroom in the range of that of Manhattan at $2,000- 2,500 per month.  Evidence of the boom bust cycle can be seen in the housing stock, much of which is dilapidated, vacant, or underutilized; creating a community vision that sends a message of a blighted community.  This image has serious financial effects on economic development, suggesting that the community tolerates these conditions that detract from property values. The community challenge is to design a community vision, plan, and supporting budget that will set their own course to withstand the pressures of the boom/bust cycle overtime.
             The City has recently tripled in population, reaching 16,000 according to the Census, but local officials believe true population numbers could be double that. A study by the University of North Dakota estimates that the population could grow to 44,000 in the next five years.
            Many of the funds and categories that was higher than budgeted expenditures relate to public services and infrastructure. This correlates with the increase in population and the demand placed on public programs, roadways, transportation systems, and general city administrative tasks and supplies.  Many of the funds and categories are focused on community development, job creation, and planning.  Utilities, infrastructure improvements, and many of the public services have above average expenditures.  There also are expenses, which were not anticipated or budgeted for that relate to an expanding community. Transportation system expansions, airport expansions, and an Amtrak depot improvements, street improvements, and water and sewer improvements are all unaccounted for in the 2012 budget, totaling $1.7 million dollars.

Comparable Jurisdictions
            In April of 2013 I attended a seminar about the community planning challenges of boom towns at the American Planning Association’s national conference. The presenters were from the Montana side of the Balkan formation and experiencing similar pressures as Williston. A comparison of similar jurisdictions show that community development expenditures are a major constraint on boom towns.

1-year growth
Dickenson, ND
Andrews, Texas
Elk City, Okla.
Sidney, MT

Community development expenditures will remain a challenge is to accommodate growth in boomtowns. Major pressures on the City are the populations increased demand for public services, amenities, infrastructure, utilities, transportation systems, and housing sock.   Taking advantage of low hanging fruit to generate additional revenue will be a necessary piece f the budgetary puzzle.  .  A general recommendation to all city administrators and regional public policy makers is to create a platform for collaboration, perhaps through the American Planning Association. In the seminar I attended the facilitator asked for a show of hands of the crowed to show the geographic locations of other booming energy industry cities across America, the room was peppered with people who were in similar situations. Creating an easy network of professionals in similar situations could prove to beneficial while trying to untangle the fiscal challenges of boomtowns.

CNN Money (2012). America’s Biggest Boomtown-Fastest Growing Boomtowns. Retrieved from

Crookston Times (2013). Oil boom bites into Williston’s Credit Rating.

Dupree Jamie (December 9, 2010)  Tax Cuts Summary. The Atlanta Journal   Constitution. Retrieved at  insider/2010/12/09/summary-of-tax-deal/

City of Williston b ( 2012).Miscellaneous Documents- Financial Statements. Retrieved from W.AUD

City of Williston a ( 2012). Comprehensive plan. Retrieved from W.AUD

Windholm, M. (2012). The Downside of Living in a Boom Town. National Public Radio.
Retrieved from

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