He wants to invest money now in growth opportunities; other council members want to solidify budget first, then see what’s ‘left over’
Since he was first elected to represent Ward 1 on the Crookston City Council, Tom Jorgens has made no secret his desire to have the council, city officials and community leaders constantly thinking strategically and possessing a willingness to invest financially in things that will secure the community's growth over the long-term. Anything less than that, Jorgens has said repeatedly over the past couple of years, and Crookston's vitality heading into an uncertain future will be jeopardized.
In the context of a discussion this week of the city council's Ways & Means Committee on how much local money should be put forth in order to secure a larger chunk of money to replenish the city's Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) loan fund, Jorgens perhaps uttered his strongest words yet on the subject of the city's budget and finances, how to strategically invest in the future, and the council's willingness to take on some debt in order to grow the community. While no one around the city hall conference room table expressed opposition to Jorgen's visions for the the future, some felt he was being a bit too aggressive at this juncture, and that the council needs to at least get its 2015 budget in order before seriously talking about coming up with a big pot of local money to replenish the IRP loan fund, or taking on a great deal of debt.
But, with the discussion coming moments after Kim Durbin of Drees, Riskey & Vallager LTD told the council that the city's budget is in good shape and that it has very little outstanding debt, Jorgens said the time is right for the council to be at least a little aggressive when it comes to investing in the community's long-term future.
Specific to the local investment in the IRP fund, City Administrator Shannon Stassen said staff researched the possibilities, and the recommendation was to come up with $50,000 locally in order to put $250,000 in the IRP loan. Stassen said the council could also consider putting up $70,000 locally in order to get $400,000 for the IRP fund in return.
Jorgens suggested the city secure up to $1 million, which Finance Director Angel Hoeffner estimates would require a local investment of up to $350,000.
"We just heard we're in good financial shape, so can't we come up with a way to finance that?" Jorgens said.
Ward 3 Council Member Gary Willhite said if Stassen and his staff were recommending the $250,000/$50,000 local option, that was good enough for him, and he made a motion to approve it. But his motion died when no one offered a second. After much discussion, council members agreed that there was no immediate rush to make a decision, so they're going to talk about it further next week. A committee that meets as needed to discuss IRP loans will also sit down next week to discuss the matter.
Jorgens said as he looks in the city's "tool box" to create industry and jobs, pretty much all he sees is the IRP loan program. So, he said, it needs to have enough money in it to make things happen in the community.
Stassen acknowledged his recommendation on the IRP amount was on the conservative side, and that the whole 2015 budget as currently proposed is conservative as well.
"Well, on the option you're recommending, I can tell you from what I know that those funds will be gone the minute the money is available just from the projects that are in the pipeline," Jorgens responded.
At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud sounded a popular refrain around the table when he said more discussion was needed, and that the council can't stick the city's neck out too far. "I couldn't agree more with what you're saying," Quanrud said to Jorgens. "But we have to do what we can afford. Someone show me that we can afford doing what you're talking about doing. Growing or shrinking our community isn't the biggest issue to me, it's what we an afford and what could potentially hurt us in the future."
The council can't continue to rely on Local Government Aid from the state to boost the budget, Jorgens said. Growing the local tax base, he said, is the primary way the city is going to take care of itself and grow its future.
"But how in the hell do we know what we can afford until until we look at the rest of our budget?" At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye said. "We have a lot of things we need to take care of first, and then we can see what's left over. I think we all recognize the importance of this, and housing, too, but I think we're going in the wrong order here."
"All we've done for years is see what's left over," Jorgens responded. "So we don't invest enough to get growth. Our competitors out there are doing it and we're not keeping up. We're struggling to keep up with Fosston."
Willhite wondered if anyone around the table was willing to cut police officers or firefighters or public works staff in order to free up enough local money to invest in economic development. To that, Jorgens said staff reductions are coming no matter how much the city invests, or doesn't invest in economic development.
"I know we're going to be cutting staff, I guarantee you that," he said. "Whether it's next year or the year after, there's a wall coming. The only way we can hold off that wall is to cultivate growth and increase revenue. LGA is not going to keep up."
Quanrud expressed "shock" over Jorgens' remarks in regard to staff reductions, and Melbye added that he doesn't think cuts in city personnel are inevitable.
"I don't mean to say we need to slow down, but maybe we need to take a step back and figure this out," he said. "I know we can't get behind the Fosstons and the Erskines. We have to be competitive. But at the same time, we have to have places to house people and things like that."
"And we need to take care of our basic services, too," Willhite added.
Citing local investments in new roads and infrastructure in the northeast corner, the purchase of the Professional Building property and old Crookston Paint & Glass building, Stassen said the council and CHEDA has shown in 2014 that money can be strategically invested in growth opportunities.
But, he said, most of the local money for those projects came from the city's various enterprise funds. "I know we can't dip into those funds every year, either," Stassen said.
Jorgens said he's simply advocating for money to be made available, whether it's on hand now or through various financing avenues, to boost efforts that grow the tax base and bring people to the community. "Without that, we're just handcuffing our economic development efforts," he said.