How to spend an additional $459,000 that's being handed to you...we could all wish for such a difficult dilemma, right?
But as the Crookston City Council and various city officials try to figure out how to spend an additional $459,000 in Local Government Aid coming Crookston's way in 2014, a couple of things become clear in relatively short order. First off, while $459,000 is a lot of money on a certain level, it disappears in rapid fashion when needed investments in a city of around 8,000 are listed and subsequently prioritized. Secondly, there is no easy answer.
Invest all or most of it in economic development? Sure, that sounds great. After all, quite a few cool things are happening on the local economic development front, and CHEDA, led by Craig Hoiseth, seems to be on kind a roll lately.
But what, specifically, do you spend it on, economic developmentally speaking? We all hear Crookston needs jobs that pay well, so on the surface it would seem especially strategic to try to get a manufacturer to build on that 100 acres or so the city bought a couple years ago on the south side of Ingersoll Avenue. But where will the workers come from, especially for the positions that require especially skilled personnel? Nick Nicholas, co-owner of Dee, Inc., reported a couple months ago that the aluminum parts manufacturer would hire 40 more workers immediately if they could, but they can't find that many workers locally who will stay on the job.
So maybe housing is the way to go. But, again, what specific facets under the housing umbrella warrant the investment of additional, precious dollars? Do we need more affordable homes, mid-priced homes, or expensive homes? Do we need more rental units, or housing for senior citizens? Should older, cheaper homes in Crookston's most established neighborhoods – now protected from 100-year floods – be rehabilitated and re-sold? Should the city partner with housing contractors?
A lot of questions...and not many answers, yet.
Then there's that huge list of capital improvement and maintenance projects the council is pondering. As of a couple weeks ago, they were categorized as "required", "critical", "necessary" and "preferred." That's nothing but confusing, so maybe they should be categorized on a "needed" list and a "wish" list instead. Under the current budget scenario for 2014, it seems as though lots of things on the lists aren't going to get done. Do we want to let things slide that much? At least if you tackle some needed capital investments, the benefit afterward is absolutely tangible.
Possibly muddying the waters is the fact that, as things stand now, the city is in line for an even greater LGA boost in 2015. If that became reality, some investments could be made in 2014, and more could be made the year after that. But if we've learned anything about the Minnesota Legislature and its dealings with the governor's office over the past decade or so, it's that nothing is guaranteed until it's not only signed and sealed, but delivered.
Page 2 of 2 - So, yes, this is a problem many would love to have to deal with. But, at the same time, it's kind of a pressure cooker dilemma for the council and city leaders.