North Dakota lawmakers to tour state's oil patch

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 24, 2014 at 3:51 pm •  Published: July 24, 2014

Officials from oil-producing communities want to revamp a formula used to distribute oil and gas production tax revenue. The fund currently sets aside 75 percent to the state and 25 percent to local governments.

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford and others want a 60-40 split in favor of local governments in oil counties.

Sanford said Watford City has received about $46 million in state money during the current two-year budget cycle but the city's infrastructure needs are $284 million. More than 6,500 people are using the city's wastewater system that was designed for only 1,000 residents, and hundreds housing units are hamstrung by the lack of infrastructure that the city can't afford to fund on its own, Sanford said.

"Ten years ago there were only 5,000 people in our whole county that's the size of Rhode Island," said Sanford, a CPA and automobile dealership owner. "Now it takes five minutes to make a left hand turn because of the traffic."

The entire state is sharing in the billions of dollars in new wealth, but western North Dakota is paying the price, the mayor said.

"We don't want to sound parochial and selfish about our needs," Sanford said. "But we are the golden goose and more money needs to be invested here."

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, said she won't be making the trip. She experiences oil boom life daily.

"I'm keeping a seat open on the bus for someone else," said Steiner, who also is the executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. "You can hardly put into words what's happening out here — our state has been turned upside down and we now have a whole new identity.

"It's absolutely critical for (lawmakers) to come out here and see what's going on."