Beautification proponents appreciate Wal-Mart grant, but wish city budget allocated some money

    If local beautification proponents had a thousand dollars for every time the topic of beautification in Crookston has come up over the past year or so at  meetings of the Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee or Convention & Visitors Bureau board, they'd have a lot of money.   

    But, alas, all those discussions don't equal big bucks. In fact, the Chamber's Beautification Committee and the volunteers who lead efforts to keep the community beautiful rely for the most part on a $1,000 grant they've received from Crookston's Wal-Mart each of the past four years.   

    With record amounts of lodging tax revenue coming into the city's coffers, leaders of the Beautification Committee would like to change that. Statute doesn't allow the revenue to be spent on things like downtown planters and hanging flower baskets around town, but the administrative fee the city collects each year in order to coordinate the tax gleaned from local hotel and motel revenue is simply absorbed by the general fund, Ward 2 Council Member and Beautification Committee member Dana Johnson said this week, at a Ways & Means Committee meeting.   

    Interim City Administrator Pat Kelly said Beautification Committee Chair Nell DeBoer, Johnson and others involved in the efforts should simply come back with a request for funds in the 2014 budget. "The money you're talking about would be coming out of the general fund anyway," he told Johnson. "If you want $2,000 or something, I think it's great. The committee is a hard-working bunch and I think we should encourage those types of efforts as much as possible. ...I'm not saying you're going to get $20,000, but for a few thousand dollars, I don't think you can spend money better than that."   

   The most recent beautification-related discussion focused on the need for all of the local beautification efforts to be compiled in a list so everyone knows what is being done and who's in charge of what, whether a certain project is coordinated primarily by volunteers or paid Parks & Recreation staff. That discussion also focused on the need for a "point-person" of sorts to be the go-to person for beautification efforts in the community. A little more money in the budget could maybe help that become a reality, Johnson said.   

    Mayor Dave Genereux cautioned that such requests for funding should typically be made earlier in the year, before the city approves its preliminary budget in September. "I'm not saying we can't tweak the budget, but then the money has to come out of somewhere else," he said.   

    Finance Director Angel Hoeffner noted that the 2014 budget, in the "council-approved items" category, has $12,500 available. That balance was much larger going into 2013, she added, but the council approved spending up to $150,000 on the Wayne Hotel parking lot paving project and the Downtown Square Pavilion.   

    Chamber President/CEO Shannon Stassen said a few thousand dollars earmarked for beautification efforts would go a long way. "Beautification is a great example of the community coming together, whether it's individuals, clubs, businesses or the university," he said.