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Page 10 n Thursday, June 14, 2012


BAKKEN BREAKOUT WEEKLY The ‘big picture’ response to oil The changes that intense de-

“This one’s on the house.”

- Dakota, The Classified Dog


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velopment of oil and gas have brought to western North Da- kota have been wide-ranging and significant. Better wages and plenty of jobs have drawn workers to the oil patch, boost- ing the state’s population. And with more people come certain challenges, from providing better roads and more school classrooms to a demand for housing and nearly every other service a community provides. One of the common themes in the re-

Association studying the state of justice in the oil patch

June 19 at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson and 4 to 6 p.m. June 26 at the Williams County Courthouse in Williston. Concern about crime is certainly

lationship between oil development and local and state government has been the need to catch up. Typically, infrastruc- ture and services lag behind the growing need in the oil-producing counties. It’s a challenge all the way around. To get a sense of the status of “jus-

tice” in the oil patch, the State Bar Asso- ciation of North Dakota has established a task force, which held its first public meeting June 5 in Bismarck. Additional meetings will be held from 4 to 6 p.m.

prevalent, and the Legislature in its regular session and a special session boosted the number of Highway Patrol troopers dedicated to the western third of the state. But law enforcement and the courts are about more than patrol officers. The higher levels of activity in- evitably bubble up to local criminal and civil courts — to clerks of court, proba- tion officers, judges. That increased ac- tivity can mean delays. “An effective, efficient and respon-

sive justice system is as vital a part of the infrastructure necessary to support energy development as roads and utility systems,” said Kristen Pettit Venhuizen, presi- dent of the state bar association. We agree. The meetings are set to determine just how that system is operating. The timing of the task force

should mean it will be able to give law- makers and state officials important in- formation in advance of the next session of the Legislature, setting the stage for a more comprehensive state response. It’s essential that key services such

as those supplied by the courts system and law enforcement have the resources to operate effectively. The same goes for certain social services and other local and state government responsibilities. It’s information-gathering like this by the state bar association that can give legislators the data necessary to deter- mine the right levels of service.

Help build affordable housing With the critical demand for

housing of all kinds in western North Dakota, there’s less incen- tive for the construction of af- fordable housing. But for people who need affordable housing, it’s imperative that more reason- ably priced rental units be built. North Dakotans who anticipate having a tax liability can help meet the affordable housing need by buying tax credits for low-income housing. The North Dakota Legislature has al-

lowed for $15 million to be gathered in a fund, through the sale of tax credits, to be used for the construction of afford- able housing. Working with developers, the North

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Dakota Housing Finance Agency has committed $11 million to projects un- der the program, contingent on the state’s taxpayers buying credits. That will represent 570 affordable rental units, two-thirds of which are income- and rent-restricted. The $11 million in state funds will result in projects worth $86 million. Another round of projects will be evaluated at the end of June, and NDH-

Potential exists in tax credit program

FA Director Mike Anderson expects the remaining capital available — $4 mil- lion — to be committed. Tax credits worth $6.5 million have

come in so far. The projects receiving favorable re-

view so far are in Ray, Dickinson, Wat- ford City, Bowman, Minot and Willis- ton — across the western third of the state feeling the pressure of a housing shortage driven by the state’s growing oil industry. In this area, people on fixed or low incomes have found themselves at the mercy of rapidly rising rents and a lack of housing alternatives. People buy- ing the low-income housing credit can make a real difference for people living in these communities. A Tribune story June 3 discussed the

critical shortage of affordable housing in western North Dakota. Even in Bis- marck, arguably outside the oil-impact

area, the low-income housing locations have a 98 percent occu- pancy rate. Most of $6.5 million now

in the Housing Incentive Fund came in before the end of the last calendar year, driven by the tax

season, which makes sense. However, if NDHFA has to wait for the 2012 tax sea- son to obtain funds from the program, a number of expected projects will not be able to break ground in the present construction season, and it means wait- ing another year for that new housing to come into the market. Better for afford- able housing if people buy tax credits this summer. Also, businesses that make quarterly

estimated tax payments can make con- tributions to offset their payments now, rather than waiting until December. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit

Program is new. It makes use of a pri- vate-public partnership in a way that addresses important needs in the state. It gives taxpayers control over where at least part of their tax dollars are spent. It’s an innovative concept that addresses an important public need. Check it out.

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