The City of Williston is “Going in the right direction,” and at Thursday’s State of the City address, city leaders say the best is yet to come.
“That’s what you’re going to hear about today,” Commission President Howard Klug told the assembled crowd. “We’re excited to share how the City of Williston is preparing for the future.”
Klug, along with Williston City Commissioners Brad Bekkedahl, Tate Cymbaluk, Deanette Piesik and City Administrator David Tuan, shared the progress the city has made and the direction it is going during the address, given Thursday, May 9 at the Grand Williston Hotel. Klug began by saying that there were a lot of positives to address, mentioning the passage of the Operation Prairie Dog Bill and thanking representatives Patrick Hatlestad, David Richter and Brad Bekkedahl, who were in attendance.
Klug applauded the bill, saying it will be a relief to have an ongoing funding source so that the city “does not have to go down and beg for our money back every two years.” The subject of school funding was also mentioned, with Klug chiding the state for not being more active regarding the issue.
“It’s a struggle when we go down there, but we put our efforts into it,” Klug said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get everything that we asked for, and the State of North Dakota, I’ll say it straight up, needs to do more funding for local schools. And they have the money. The State of North Dakota is not broke. They’ve got billions of dollars sitting down in Bismarck, and we’re going to continue to fight for that money to come back so we can educate our kids, and we’re not giving up.”
Klug turned the podium over to Finance Commissioner Bekkedahl, who spoke on the successes of economic development in the area over the past year.
“Williston Economic Development, along with the Small Business Development Center, have had a stellar year, even by their own previously set high standards.” He said. “To begin with, I’d like you to know that our office produces ans see through more small businesses than anywhere else in the state. We are the top producing region and small business development center in the state.”
In addition, he said, the Small Business Development Center’s goal for 2019, as established by the state’s figures, was to open four new businesses, work with 62 clients and provide $1.3 million in loans from the Bank of North Dakota during 2019. As a testament to the hard work the center has put in, he continued, within the first quarter of 2019 the center has started eight new businesses, worked with 111 new clients and provided $8 million in loans.
Bekkedahl also lauded Economic Development Director Shawn Wenko, recognizing him for his recent Western Star award, as well as congratulating his efforts in gaining international accreditation for Williston’s Economic Development Office, the first and only office in the state to receive the honor.
Bekkedahl mentioned the city’s debt as well, saying that when came into the office in 1996, the city had about $34 million in debt, and that currently the city has about $280 million in debt. Klug also referred to the sizable debt, but called it “manageable.”
“We have an aggressive debt schedule payment,” Bekkedahl explained. “Those are tied to three major resources. From our sales tax issue, from our public safety sales tax, and from our gross production tax from the state. All told, and again we’re not relaying on property tax for this, those three issues are paying back between $24 million and $26 million in debt, which are sizable payments.”
Hard work noticed
Police, Fire and Ambulance Commissioner Cymbaluk spoke next, showcasing the hard work done by both the fire and police departments, and giving special recognition to Chief Jason Catrambone for his efforts in taking the Williston Fire Department from a mostly volunteer department to a having nearly 70 full time firefighters and about 40 volunteers.
“With that, we have built this department to better serve this community and this whole region.” Cymbaluk said. “They are providing a service that is top shelf.”
Cymbaluk recognized Police Chief David Peterson for his working in bolstering the department, taking it from a department of about 25 officers to around 70 full-time officers and 15 dispatchers. With the growth in the city, he added, the number of officers have changed the dynamic within the community.
“You see them everywhere in this community,” he said. “Every street you go down, you’re going to run into an officer somewhere, and that tells me that they’re doing their job. They’re here to provide safety to this community.”
The commissioner briefly touched on the “ups and downs” from the last week, alluding to the recent shootings that caused District 1 to lock down, as well as the active shooter from last weekend.
“We’re going to get through it,” he said. “We’ve got a strong community, a strong department and they know what they need to do to provide the safety of this community.”
Klug addressed the problems as well, echoing Cymbaluk’s remarks.
“In the last week we’ve had some issues in the city of Williston,” he said. “We’re going to deal with them. We’re going to make sure that this town is safe for each and every one of you. We’ll take care of what’s going on. But overall, the city is safe, and I’m proud that I can say that Western North Dakota is safe because of the people that we’ve hired.”
City Administrator David Tuan spoke on behalf of Chris Brostuen, commissioner for water, sewer, airport and development services. Tuan first spoke about the importance of the Development Services department, and their role in helping improve the quality of life for the city’s residents by bringing new businesses and ideas into the area.
“We’re trying to take a more progressive approach so that business can be not only supported, but can grow as quickly as the community is expecting it to.” he explained.
Tuan spoke about the continued work on the Williston Basin International Airport, which is scheduled to open in October.
He said there are a lot of exciting things coming, such as possible additional air carriers and the future development of Sloulin Field.
“There’s 800 acres there, and we have what I think is a very progressive plan to look at land use, civic uses, public uses, private uses and develop that property in a way that can transform what this community becomes.” He said.
Engineering, Streets, Sanitation and Cemetery Commissioner Piesik said she was thrilled with the changes coming from her department, including the addition of City Engineer David Wicke, who took over for longtime engineer Bob Hanson, who stepped into the role of senior engineering adviser. On the public works side of things, Piesik spoke on the success of the city’s new water resource facility, the first and largest facility of its kind in the state. The new Public Works building was also mentioned, with Piesik saying the department will be able to run more efficiently once all departments are housed in one location.
Klug took the mic one final time to discuss the departments he oversees, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Williston Community Library, recognizing CVB director Amy Krueger for receiving the North Dakota Legends Award in 2018 for being top tourism director in the state. He applauded the CVB’s success in promoting tourism in Western North Dakota, supporting 19 events in the area in 2018, which brought significant recognition to the region.
The library, Klug stated, served over 100,000 visitors in 2018, showing how important and vital it is to the community and its residents. Through a grant from the Robert E. Herman Foundation, the library was able to offer a larger number of programs for both adults and youth, further contributing to its success.
Concluding the address, Klug said the city is proud of the people who work day after day to make Williston successful and welcoming, and that the future growth, including the opening of XWA and the redevelopment of Sloulin Field, will continue to make Williston a shining star in Western North Dakota.
“Is everything rosy here in the city? No. But it’s a lot better than it used to be.” Klug said. “We have great partners who we’re working hand in hand with on a daily basis, and will continue to work with. I’m pretty proud that I’m from Williston, North Dakota.”