Posted 2/09/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Tioga City Commission is considering an expenditure to help show legislators the town still has needs it can’t meet without state support.
The North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties invited Tioga to participate, along with several other large communities in western North Dakota, to develop financial analyses. These materials would then be used in the legislative session to illustrate the city’s financial position.
The concern is that a state funding shortfall could lead legislators to be more careful in their spending next biennium, at the same time communities are experiencing dropping revenues of their own.
“In the legislature, there’s going to be more concern. They just announced a $1 billion shortfall this week,” said Vicki Steiner, executive director of the NDAOGPC.
Tioga is one of six communities invited to participate in developing forecasts of finances and analyses of gaps between resources and needs. The NDAOGPC is willing to share half the costs of the analyses, which would be $50,000.
Since Tioga previously hired AE2S to do a comprehensive plan containing much of the data needed, Tioga was offered a discounted price of $17,500.
Dickinson, Watford City, Williston, and Killdeer are the other towns being asked to take part.
At their last meeting, Tioga commissioners were hesitant to spend money at a time when they need to reduce expenditures.
Commissioner Heather Weflen said she doesn’t think the city can afford to do the study right now.
The concern is whether Tioga could lose funding that would cost more than the analysis.
“If you don’t present the information to them, they don’t care,” said City Attorney Ben Johnson, speaking in a non-official capacity.
Economic Development Director Dennis Lindahl said Stanley hired a lobbyist during the last session and as a result the town got $5 million more in “surge” funding.
This year, legislators could be giving requests much more scrutiny, Lindahl warned.
“There’s going to be a gap between what they can return to the communities and what the communities need,” he said.
Steiner, who was not present at the meeting, said participation in the study is entirely voluntary and the NDAOGPC would not have any problem if Tioga decided to “sit it out.”
But, she said, having that information in hand to put before legislators can be a valuable tool in illustrating a need.
Besides the study, Commissioner Todd Thompson asked what else the city might pursue to see that legislators understand the town’s needs.
“We do have to do something,” Commissioner Ronda Davidson said.
Charles Vein, president of AE2S, said the company did a similar study for Williston in the last legislative biennium. He said there’s an “internal value” to the message the study would bring to the state.
“You want to put a plan together that the legislators will get behind,” Vein said.
Weflen was still hesitant to spend the money as was Commissioner John Grubb, saying the investment holds no guarantees.
“That’s like throwing a paper plane at the legislature,” Grubb said.
Mayor Drake McClelland pointed out how much the town had done over the summer with addressing many of its needs.
With the legislative session not starting until Jan. 2017, the commission decided there is time to look at this and other options before deciding how best to invest its lobbying dollars.
And the NDAOGPC has not given any kind of deadline.
The commission voted unanimously to table the decision until the second regular meeting in March.