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Published December 16 2012

Bad debt rises in Williston, heart of Oil Patch

WILLISTON, N.D. — The influx of job seekers flooding western North Dakota's oil patch has a growing price tag for the city at the heart of the activity: Williston is owed more than $360,000 by people who used its ambulance service in 2012 but didn't pay their bills.

That's part of the $434,000 in bad debt that City Auditor John Kautzman outlined for city commissioners at a meeting last week. The total is more than triple last year's bad debt tally of about $121,000.

The likelihood that the city will recoup the money is slim, Kautzman said.

“Our success rate in the bill collection side is historically not the best,” he said.

North Dakota is the nation's second-largest oil-producing state, trailing only Texas. The statewide prosperity it's brought has translated into the lowest unemployment rate in the country, drawing thousands of newcomers to the region looking for work.

Fire Chief Alan Hanson told the Williston Herald that the ambulance bill issue largely stems from new arrivals not having health insurance or permanent addresses in the area.

“Sometimes they don't know where they live, and others give us a bogus address and you go to send them a bill and it doesn't exist,” he said.

“We cannot deny care, and we're not going to,” Hanson added.

Kautzman says the city likely will collect 4 cents on the dollar for the ambulance debt.

Williston has seen city revenue swell since 2008, doubling from about $8.3 million to $17.6 million.