Child care, public safety, orderly development and affordable housing were among topics on the minds of Ward County residents who took part Thursday in a discussion on the county's growth challenges.
Vision West ND held a public meeting in Minot to address quality of life and economic issues as part of a two-day planning process that concludes with a steering committee meeting today. Vision West ND is a consortium of 19 oil and gas producing counties, Three Affiliated Tribes, regional councils, energy associations and education institutions, that seeks to address immediate needs of growing communities and establish a sustainable, diversified economy.
Meetings are being held throughout oil country to gather input into a regional plan and develop proposals for the Legislature.
About 30 people attended the public meeting at the North Central Research Extension Center south of Minot. Longtime residents and newcomers to the county talked about the fundamental changes they are seeing in traffic, housing and crime.
"It's been a family-friendly community and we want to see it remain a family-friendly community," said Mark Vollmer, Minot Public Schools superintendent.
The type of growth occurring raised concern.
M. David Spies of Minot called the growth random and haphazard.
"It seems like there's no rhyme or reason," he said.
Dana Larsen, Ward County engineer, said communities need to be smart about growth. When the boom has passed, a community should be able to say the growth was amazing and not "holy cow, look at the mess."
"What concerns me is the temporary turning into permanent housing," said Mike Larson, Ward County building inspector. Whether its Federal Emergency Management Agency housing or people camped out on the countryside, he is concerned that people have housing that is appropriately placed and adequate for the weather.
Others talked about the feeling of desperation by people who cannot afford housing in Minot. There was talk about greed infecting the community, although it also was acknowledged that costs are high for developers or landlords who had to rebuild from the flood.
The conversation about quality of life included issues affecting the business community.
"As an employer, you want a positive image for your business, and it's tough," said Penny Hamilton, who spoke of the difficulty in getting good help. Her small restaurant went through 80 employees in a year's time.
Al Hallock, a longtime oil driller, spoke of the need to ensure that North Dakota benefits from the oil industry. He said the state should give companies incentive to hire locally rather than bring in out-of-state residents who have no interest in bettering the state.
"Oil is going to be there. We can slow it down. We need to get rid of these camps," he said.
Diane Abram, a Minot child-care provider, said the child-care industry is in serious trouble.
Because parents cannot afford to pay more for child care, providers might make as little as $9.20 an hour and have to pay expenses out of that, she said. They can work 60 to 70 hours a week and not afford health care insurance, she said.
"We have a lot of day cares opening and they are closing as fast as they are opening," Abram said. "The bottom line is we are going to need help."
Having previously operated a child care in New York, she mentioned the group health insurance plans and payroll assistance offered to child-care businesses that helped make the system work in that state.
Vision West ND has formed a task force on child care, which has been a top issue raised in counties throughout the oil patch. A forum will be held Oct. 2 in Bismarck.