Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A FINAL Plea for a balanced approach - a little give and take?

Greetings again from the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation.

A frequent traffic event between Watford City and Williston.  This particular day - over two hours to travel 45 miles.  Reason - working on bridge in the middle of the day (in the cities, construction happens at night when traffic is minimal).  Reason for pointing this out - sometimes adjustments from the 'status quo' are needed...
Additional support for the need for improved road and highway infrastructure between Williston and Watford City.
I recently spent ten days in Brazil (which I will share that experience with you in the future) with a group of rural leaders from North Dakota. There were 30 of us.  We quickly learned that 1) we stuck out like sore thumbs (60 sore thumbs) in this beautiful and exotic country and 2) we had preconceived notions of what this country would look like and be like prior to experiencing it first hand.  Some 'pre-experience' views panned out to be accurate, many did not.

And so it goes.  When I am asked about our existence (lives, family, community) and our ranch (natural resources, livestock, business) in western North Dakota (both pre- and post- boom) I am often times taken back by the questions themselves.  I happily entertain the questions (even if a small part of me is horrified by the preconceived notions of this place that spark them) and I try to bring balanced insight to them in my responses.  There are good days and bad days and 'balance' sways with the tide, but really when you are on the front line, there is very little reason to 'take sides' which are extreme and much reason to share reasonable perspective and suggestions for possible solutions in hopes that the 'powers that be' will consider them when making decisions for the greater good of the most people affected by these decisions.

The powers that be?  Basically, on a local level we are getting things figured out.  The community is currently being guided by exceptional leadership.  Many of these leaders, people that left home 'to make their way in the world' (and for lack of sustainable opportunities here at the time of their college graduation), gained valuable knowledge, insight and experience, and then returned home when opportunity arose and duty called.  So the 'POWER' I speak of, the state of North Dakota.

It is not the Farming game, but similar...

So let's say the State of North Dakota is a privately owned law firm... lets just pretend.

Each county is an attorney at the firm.  As a percentage of annual revenue brought into the 'NORTH DAKOTA LAW FIRM', McKenzie County in 2012 was paid 3.4% of that revenue in its 2012 annual salary.  If that income was 1 million dollars, McKenzie County's annual income would be $34,000.00.

But, it takes one amazing attorney and probably a secretary and a paralegal to bring in that type of annual revenue.  So more realistically, at $500,000 of revenue brought in to the 'NORTH DAKOTA LAW FIRM' by Mr. McKenzie, that attorney's annual income would be $17,000.00.

So the question, what would that grossly underpaid attorney do?  Either find another firm or start their own.  Unfortunately, Mr. McKenzie County doesn't have that option.

So, lets set aside the 'what if' game and talk about the numbers.

ALL of the people flooding into to the area for job opportunities (and to create revenue for the state) need things.  They need roads to drive on (safe ones and enough of them), mailboxes and courier services, housing (with water and waste disposal systems), food (groceries and prepared meals) and other durable goods, gas (yep, we even have gas pump shortages five years into this thing), vehicle license plates and registrations, teachers in classrooms (not enough of either), law enforcement and judicial systems (both of which protect the guilty and the innocent), child care (to allow additional people to enter the workforce (which needs them badly))...

This already underpaid employee of the NORTH DAKOTA LAW FIRM needs LOTS of stuff.

My request to the POWERS THAT BE, kick back a larger percentage of the revenue that McKenzie County is sending to the State of North Dakota.  According to local leadership, the needs of the community:

  • $192 million for the city of Watford City to construct service streets, sewer and water to bring city infrastructure to a point where it can service 16,000 people (the projections of future population if 20+ - there could easily be 4,000 to 5,000 people finding themselves without service in the near future, but as North Dakotans, we are conservative in planning for the future)
  • $120 million for county roads.  This number grows every day due to the fact that improved roads with a 15 year life expectancy are lasting less than 2 years.
  • $ 64 million in schools, $ 55 million in health care, $5.5 million in law enforcement and emergency services - these are just brick and mortar needs to move a community of 1,744 people in 2010 to 16,000 people when it transitions from a ' two weeks on / two weeks off , worker housing' community to a permanent housing / family based community.
The total for 'needs' in the upcoming biennium for the high achieving attorney (which is currently bringing in 25% of the NORTH DAKOTA LAW FIRM oil revenue), Mr. McKenzie, is roughly $440 million dollars (many of these one time expenditures).  Mr. McKenzie's estimated gross revenue for the NORTH DAKOTA LAW FIRM in the upcoming biennium, over $ 1 billion (yep, with a 'B').  I know that taking back 44% of your annual revenue in salary is a high percentage, but if you average that with the previous biennium of 3.4%, 24% doesn't seem out of line even to the shrewdest of business managers (and I will give the state of NORTH DAKOTA credit for being shrewd).

So again, my reasonable perspective and possible solutions - I encourage the state legislature to bridge the gap between the past, the proposed, and the NEEDS of Mr. McKenzie and the other 4 counties in western North Dakota bearing the majority of the weight of this NORTH DAKOTA windfall. 

Below is an article from the New York Times which is very honest, balanced (in my opinion), and points out some interesting qualities of North Dakotans that we might not otherwise see in ourselves.  I encourage the read and I encourage you to comment on this piece and my blog if you agree with me (or for that matter if you disagree with me) in saying to the 'powers that be':
"The state of North Dakota should not sell out the residents of the impacted communities in western North Dakota simply because there are preconceived notions about this place and its people (like if they don't care and they are living in it, why should we care), or because the people here have always 'just made do, taken care of it themselves (it is too big of a task this time), are loyal and servitude in nature (possibly to a fault), and/or don't want to rock the apple cart."

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