- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - The oil boomtown of Williston has approved the largest budget in the city’s history, fivefold what it was four years earlier.

Williston’s city commission approved the $250 million budget for 2015 on Tuesday.

City documents show that in 2011, the budget was just $50 million. And in 2000, before the booming oil industry transformed Williston from a provincial farm town into the fastest-growing area in the country, the budget was only $20 million according to The Williston Herald.

Williston’s population was just 14,716 in the 2010 census, but since then, thousands have flooded into the area seeking high-paying jobs created by North Dakota’s economic boom. The Census Bureau estimates the population of the area grew to 29,595 by July 2013. Earlier this year, former Mayor Ward Koeser estimated the service population of the Williston area - which includes workers who rotate in and out of the region - to be around 50,000.

Sprawling neighborhoods and roads that did not exist on the map a few years ago have been built in short order as the population has ballooned, pushing city departments to expand. The number of full-time city employees more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 108 to 226.

The oil patch town’s budget is quickly approaching that of Fargo, home to more than 100,000 people and North Dakota’s largest city. Fargo’s preliminary 2015 budget is at $282 million, up from $259 million budgeted this year.

But a hoped-for change in the state oil revenue sharing formula - which oil patch towns have been asking for to help cope with the growth they have seen - will not happen until next year at the earliest. In the meantime, to help bankroll Williston’s budget, the city is considering a $95 million loan from the Bank of North Dakota.

“We don’t have any money for any new projects without borrowing some more money or else getting money from the state,” said Williston Mayor Howard Klug. While Klug said he is optimistic Williston will take a larger cut of state oil revenues in the future, there are still no guarantees.

“We don’t want to miss another construction season waiting for the oil formula,” said Klug.

The approved budget is $39 million higher than 2014’s budget. Roads account for $86 million of the 2015 allocations. Another $48 million is appropriated for sewer and water.

Nearly $46.5 million of the proposed budget will go toward chipping away at the city’s $140 million debt, which was largely accrued due to infrastructure projects.

Klug said he expects Williston’s budget to continue growing along with the city in coming years.

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