August 15, 2012

City tries to tackle daycare, housing issues

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

In a survey taken almost a year ago, affordable housing and daycare were identified as two of the most critical needs facing Watford City in the oil boom. And they are problem areas that community leaders have been working tirelessly to solve.
Soon after the survey came out, Watford City leaders developed a plan to solve both issues. Although nothing has officially been solved yet, some key components of the city’s plan have recently fallen into place to give the city hope.
On July 26, the North Dakota State Land Board awarded Watford City $125,000 to help establish a new child care facility.
“Rapid growth in our oil counties has created a growing need for child care services at a time when rising property values are making it more difficult to establish these facilities,” states North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Though the child care grant is only the first nudge in the right direction, Curt Moen, Watford City city planner, and Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority director, are optimistic.
Especially, since Watford City has already identified and secured land that will be developed for housing and a daycare. And this past week, two other key pieces of the puzzle came together.
On Aug. 8, Watford City was awarded $514,056 by the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency for law enforcement personnel housing. Then, according to Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, on Aug. 9 the Watford City Roughrider Fund voted to award the project a $1 million grant, contingent on city council approval.
“We greatly appreciate the two state grants this project has received,” states Sanford. “However, the Roughrider Fund grant is the backbone of the fund drive as it shows the commitment of the community to this project and the needs it will address.”
With all the preliminary funding in place, Moen believes that the project is ready to move forward.
“We’re looking at a village concept that will combine the community daycare center and the emergency personnel housing units into one complex,” states Moen. “No one around here has seen anything like it.”
And the progress in bringing both a new daycare facility, as well as affordable housing to Watford City, is seen as great news by Veeder.
“We’ve been so close in the past, only to have something fall through,” states Veeder. “It takes a lot of energy and faith to keep pursuing solutions for both these issues. But this time, we are closer than we’ve ever been.”
The site for the new housing complex and daycare center, according to Moen, is close to the Watford City Elementary School.
“It is a good sized property and a good location,” states Moen “And putting this development near the school will clean up that area.”
Watford City leaders are looking to create a community daycare center with facilities big enough to service 150 to 200 children. Additionally, the complex will also contain roughly 36 apartment units that will be made available to emergency and law enforcement personnel, as well as service workers like teachers with rent prices in the $650 to $850 a month range.
“The school district is very supportive and optimistic regarding the city project to provide affordable housing and daycare to our community,” states Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 superintendent. “There is a continued need for more long-term, permanent, affordable housing for school employees. The district has also been affected by the daycare shortage in its hiring and recruiting efforts of new employees.”
The possibility of finally having housing available for Watford City police officers is also welcome news for Slade Herfindahl, Watford City police chief.
“One of the largest, and probably the toughest issue, that I have encountered as Chief of Police has been the lack of housing for our police officers,” states Herfindahl. “In the past, newly hired officers have lived with my family and even city council members until they could locate housing. This project will be a huge benefit to the city and the Police Department in the recruitment and retention of law enforcement.”
With the city’s population continuing to grow, the lack of additional daycare facilities is a big concern.
“Daycare is a huge need in this community,” states Tessa Moberg, owner of Wiggles & Giggles Daycare. “My facility is only licensed for 45 children at one time, and two in-home care givers retired this month, creating even more of a crunch.”
Moberg states that she turns away five to 10 callers a day of people looking for daycare, and her waiting list extends into 2013.
“This is a problem that has to be solved,” states Veeder. “And the solution has to be affordable or it isn’t a solution.”
Now that these recent events have gotten the ball rolling, Watford City leaders will continue on with the plan and work to make this complex a reality.