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Rural community financing supports key services

by Kent Brick

Napoleon area fire and abulance crew

From left: Napoleon fire department leaders include, from left: Marvin Lang, fire chief, Andy Hilzendeger, assistant fire chief, and Steve Fettig, fire district chairman. PHOTO BY KENT BRICK

Marvin Lang of Napoleon looks around the community’s new fire station and ambulance building and says, “Now we’ve got a place we can be proud of.”

Amy Ones is gladly putting her accounting credentials to work for the community of Flaxton. “The people here value small-town living. That's part of North Dakota and you don’t want to see that go away,” she says.

In Napoleon, Flaxton and dozens of other small communities across North Dakota, folks such as Lang and Ones are stepping up to play key roles to help keep essential services going. An important financial resource their communities are accessing is the Rural Development Finance Corporation (RDFC).

RDFC is a North Dakota-based, nonprofit finance and development corporation. Its member-owners are 16 electric cooperatives and nine telecommunications cooperatives in North Dakota, along with the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. Funding for these programs comes from fee income generated by Dakotas America LLC, a certified development entity providing New Market Tax Credits in the Dakotas.

For communities, RDFC maintains revolving loan funds, in three principal categories: Community Capital Loan Fund; Participation Loan Fund; and PACE-Flex/PACE Revolving Loan Fund, a program partnering with the Bank of North Dakota.

RDFC’s Community Capital Fund is the source of recent investments made in Napoleon and Flaxton. The Napoleon Rural Fire District received a $50,000 loan from the fund, applying it to the 2012 construction of new, adjacent fire station and ambulance service buildings. The city of Flaxton recently received a $100,000 loan to add a new water well to the city water supply. RDFC lends to communities at 1 percent interest over 10 years.

At the close of 2015, RDFC was servicing approximately $2.68 million in loans to a total of 39 local communities and development organizations. 

Fire, ambulance building for Napoleon

When Marvin Lang, Steve Fettig and Andy Hilzendeger sit together and reflect on the current state of fire and ambulance service based in Napoleon, they express great satisfaction with progress they have seen. 

Lang is fire chief, Hilzendeger is assistant fire chief and Fettig is board chairman of the Napoleon Fire District.

About five years ago, the nearly 70-year-old building used by the Napoleon fire and ambulance services was in poor condition, and nowhere near large enough to shelter the many vehicles vital to both services. A local benefactor made a donation which went to the purchase of a new ambulance, and local attention turned to solving the emergency vehicle storage problem.

“We had meetings, and we recognized we should be able to put all our equipment in one building,” Fettig says. Fettig farms near Napoleon, and is a member of KEM Electric Cooperative.

Fettig says the decision emerging from local meetings was to strive for petition support for a fire district mill levy increase. Many meetings and local debates were conducted, and the mill levy increase was ultimately approved.

Upon approval, additional funding was pursued. Fettig credits Athena Dunn, then the Napoleon economic development coordinator, for pointing them to RDFC. In addition, Fettig acknowledges key financial support from the Stock Growers Bank, in Napoleon.

The new construction resulted in adjacent buildings to house fire response equipment and vehicles and to house ambulance vehicles and equipment. The Napoleon ambulance service leases its space from the Napoleon Fire District.

In addition to excellent, safe and secure facilities for emergency equipment, the new buildings are helping with recruiting efforts of new volunteers. Getting new members for fire and ambulance squads is very challenging.

“Our biggest challenge is getting younger people involved,” Fettig says. “Young people are around, but they don’t want to volunteer their time. They don’t realize that the more volunteers we have, the less time each one has to give up.” Fettig does point with pride at locals such as his son, Michael, and Napoleon high school classmate Andy Gross Jr., for stepping up to join the firefighting force. (See sidebar story: “Paramedic Moos fell in love with it.”) 

Flaxton forging progress

Don’t measure local vitality in Flaxton by its main street business sector – which currently has only two establishments.

According to Flaxton City Auditor Amy Ones, measure Flaxton’s vitality by its handful of dedicated local citizens. Together, they are working on key upgrades to essential community resources, meant to secure a viable role for Flaxton in the newly reborn, prospering northwest North Dakota region.

Ones is an accounting and business management graduate of the University of North Dakota, with roots on a Donnybrook family farm. She and her spouse, and young family, reside near Kenmare, and are members of Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative.

As city auditor, Ones works with an elected mayor – Mary Bjergaard – a city council and a public works director. Flaxton has a census population of 66, which Ones says swells to about 80 during the summer, upon the return of “snowbirds.” But the town has a 115-year history, and infrastructure which continues to be essential to residents. 

“Our city provides sewer and water service and then we contract out for the garbage service,” Ones says. “And we do have a landfill here – which is kind of unique – a lot of small towns don't have a landfill anymore,” she continues.  

Ones says the city water tower is supported by an underground well, and that the city accessed RDFC funds to help finance a second well. She says the new well acts as a backup for the possibility of malfunction of the original well. She says also that the RDFC funding, combined by recent state legislative “surge” support for western North Dakota, is enabling the community to create a bulk water depot. Sales of water will occur at this depot.

Ones says the city expects oil industry commercial customers and agricultural customers to patronize the water depot, which will be open and available to all segments of the public. Ones indicates major pipeline construction is coming to their area, and a refinery for near Columbus is being evaluated. Project such as these bring people, and Flaxton wants to be ready for them.

Ones says she and her fellow local leaders are pursuing local improvements on several other fronts, including local tree removal/replacement, new playground equipment and upgrading the local lagoon. Fire hydrants replacement and city hall renovation have already been accomplished.

For more information about the Rural Development Finance Corporation, contact: Rural Electric and Telecommunications Development Center, Lori Capouch, 701-667-6444; Mary Stumpf, 701-667-6404; or open the “Rural Development” link at home page.