Only 1 of 9 proposed 'tools' raises concerned eyebrows.

    The Crookston Ways and Means Committee spent the majority of its Wednesday night meeting discussing a draft housing development plan prepared by City Administrator Tony Chladek. With nine "tools" detailed in the plan, Chladek asked the City Council for guidance on which ones to pursue in the long and short run.

    "You have identified housing as the number one priority for the city," he told the committee. "What I need now from you is input on what you want to move forward with. The next step, then, will be to identify properties in the community that would make good project possibilities and which of these tools can be used on them."

    Of the nine items listed, the council shot down only one: imposing a city levy for economic development of a fraction of one percent, which Chladek said would raise $38,000 per year. He recommended waiting until the special service district (flood) fee expires in 2018 to look at this.

    "I’m definitely not for that one," said Keith Mykleseth. "It's just another way of taxing. If we go down that road, we'll lose partnerships on projects. There's just a lot of reasons why it won't work for us... I'm afraid we'd be taxing people out of living in our city."

    Dana Johnson agreed. "I have no problem with levying for necessary things," she said. "But this is not one of them."

    Tom Jorgens, however, cautioned not to dismiss this option so quickly. "Look at the special service fee," he said. "We got a hell of a return on that. But you would need a really good sales pitch for this."

    Chladek noted that he will be working closely with the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) and its director, Craig Hoiseth, on housing projects.

     Other tools in the plan include:

     • A Small Cities Development Program grant of $555,000, which has already been awarded, has a goal to improve and expand housing stock and support smart growth principles in the downtown area. It will be administered in 2013-14.

    • The future availability of grants to provide discounted land price in return for guaranteed construction timeline has a target area of the former Franklin School property in Woods Addition.

    • CHEDA housing funds and other future grants could be used to purchase housing stock in low market areas such as Woods Addition, former flood plain areas and downtown. The idea, said Chladek, is to increase housing market values and reduce urban decay by rehabbing properties.

    • Creating tax-increment financing (TIF) districts for the above areas over 15 years would  serve the same purposes.

    •  Offering a discounted land price and deferred assessments in return for guaranteed construction timeline targets the arena subdivision.

    •  Another Small Cities Development Program grant could be pursued in 2015, for a single purpose up to $600,000 and comprehensive multi-purpose up to $1.4 million, targeting Woods Addition, former flood plain areas and downtown.

    • The redevelopment grant program, requiring a 50 percent match up to $500,000, could also be sought in 2015 for these areas.

    • The city and University of Minnesota, Crookston land use program, which involves possibly purchasing and swapping farmland parcels, is currently being looked at, although Chladek said this would likely be further down the road with all the hoops to go through. He also stressed that this option could require the city to borrow as much as $2 million.

    "We need to increase our housing stock, and these are all good tools to utilize in this quest," he said. "There are possibilities for us to acquire and flip after rehabbing them, we just have to identify these properties and seek out potential buyers."