Council members, officials offer up their visions for Crookston at marathon budget session.

To kick-start a Crookston City Council budget strategy session Wednesday evening at city hall, at Mayor Dave Genereux's request, everyone seated in the conference room offered up one wish that they would like to see come true in Crookston over the next five to 10 years.

Here's a rundown of the wishes detailed by council members, Genereux, City Administratror Tony Chladek and CHEDA Executive Director Hoiseth, in the order in which they were offered up:

• Genereux would like to see the population of Crookston increase by 500 to 1,000. "The challenge for us is how do we do that?" he said.

• Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said he would like to see a "Menards, Home Depot or something like that come to town, maybe a Fleet Farm or something like that."

• Ward 3 Council Member Gary Willhite would like to see the community address its aging population, which he said will impact local jobs, the economy and housing. "It would be nice to turn the trend around by getting more younger families moving into town that help the schools," Willhite said. "How do you do that? That's the $40 billion question."

• Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said the city needs to focus on adding more manufacturing jobs. "That's how we grow the population, with 500 more manufacturing jobs," he explained. "It's about bringing in outside money. It's one thing to circulate money we already got; it's another thing to bring money in from beyond the region. That's what will drive your economy."

• Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson, in addition to job and population growth, would like to see an outlet mall that she said would be a "great attraction for Canadians."

• At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye, first mentioning an 18-hole golf course, said he'd like to see continued momentum on housing developments in Crookston, whether they are in partnership with developers like Bob Herkenhoff in Barrette Estates, or something similar with other developers somewhere else in town. "We need some senior type homes, transitional housing for older people to get into before they need assisted living and things like that," Melbye said.

• Ward 5 Dale Stainbrook said more agriculture and manufacturing-related jobs are important and will increase the demand for housing, but also stressed the need to embrace and utilize the Red Lake River more. "We need to get people to appreciate it and use it more," Stainbrook said.

• At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said if the city is going to add jobs and bring people, maybe it's time to be more aggressive by doing things like marketing the 100 acres or so the city owns south of Titan Machinery. "We need to start promoting what we have available," he said. Quanrud also added the need to continue building on partnerships with the University of Minnesota Crookston.

• Ward 4 Council Member Hector Santellanes said the city can't afford to ever rest when it comes to adding a variety of housing options in the community, including downtown. "That means having more rental properties that might make a more vital downtown," he said, adding that the city needs to have a variety of resources available to assist businesses.

• Chladek said he's "all for" what the council wants. "A population increase from housing and attracting jobs, I'm willing to work toward that," he said.

• Hoiseth, saying he was born and raised in Crookston and has remained in Crookston, said the city needs to concentrate on formulating the "recipe" to make more people stay in Crookston, or at least return to Crookston. "We need to make the town attractive so people want to stay," he said. "Quality of life is really important." It's what CEOs of businesses looking for a place to do business look at, Hoiseth said...amenities for their employees like bowling alleys or swimming pools.

As far as adding jobs, he said the city probably has enough jobs that pay $8 or $9 an hour. "If people aren't getting a $13 or $14 an hour base wage with benefits, you're really starting to go backwards as a community," Hoiseth said, adding that Crookston is at sort of a "tipping point" in the area of workforce wages. "Bringing in jobs really isn't that sexy for me, but bringing in good jobs is highly important to me," Hoiseth continued. "We have enough $8, $9 jobs in Crookston. We have to raise the bar a little bit, so CEOs look at the community and see those good houses and good things for their employees to do."

Lots of questions, some answers
After the roundtable wish-list discussion, council members, Genereux and Chladek peppered each other with questions and confused each other with some of their answers. They bickered a bit, and they challenged each other's assertions. They locked horns on topics like Crookston Sports Center's budget, the city's property tax levy, and Local Government Aid. And they agreed on a lot of things, too.

Maybe so much variety is to be expected at a session that started at 5 p.m. and didn't wrap up until after 9 p.m. The wide-ranging discussions and debates were also magnified by the fact that, on one hand, the evening was designed to discuss topics specific to the 2014 city budget, but as it neared on the calendar, it was suggested that council members, Genereux and Chladek might also tackle some strategic, more big-picture issues. Then there's the fact that Hoiseth was in attendance, but no other city department head was. (Although it should be noted that, while a specific invitation was extended to Hoiseth, department heads were not required to attend.)

The most notable absence, however, was first-year Finance Director Angel Hoeffner. She alerted the council members, Chladek and Genereux a couple weeks ago that she had long ago scheduled vacation time this week, prior to the Wednesday budget discussion being scheduled. But, even though council members had many questions about all sorts of budget items, the July 31 meeting date was not changed, and the result in the city hall conference room on Wednesday was council members directing Chladek to get together with Hoeffner and any other appropriate department heads to get some detailed answers to their multitude of specific, line-item budget-related questions that Chladek was sometimes not able to shed a great deal of light on.

With a focus both on next year's budget as well as more long-term, strategic thinking about how the City of Crookston goes about its business, Genereux had said previously that he figured there was no way the council was going to be able to accomplish everything it wanted in one session, no matter how long it was. The mayor reiterated that notion as the questions started to outnumber the answers Wednesday, saying that at least one more session would be necessary.

It appears the council is targeting Aug. 12 for the next discussion. They'll gather at 6 p.m. prior to their scheduled council meeting, then sit down again after the meeting at a Ways & Means Committee meeting.