Meanwhile, Polk County administrator tells Times the county is committed to seeing that the services are somehow offered in Crookston

    With Polk County officials making it known that they’re looking to close their License Center/Deputy Registrar office at the Polk County Government Center in Crookston because it’s become a drain on the county budget, the next step when this happens in counties throughout Minnesota is for the state to offer the local municipality an opportunity to take over license center/registrar duties. If the municipality declines the offer, the next option is for a private business to step in and offer the services.

    Although the State of Minnesota has yet to officially make the offer to the City of Crookston, City Administrator Shannon Stassen said it will be made eventually. So, on Monday, he said he was hoping to “get ahead” of the issue a little bit by having the Crookston City Council make it known that the City would decline the offer, which would open the door for a private business to increase foot traffic and maybe earn some additional money by offering county license center/registrar services in Crookston.

    That’s what happened previously in East Grand Forks, where the Hardware Hank store offers license center/registrar services. That store is owned by the Buckalew family, the same family that owns the Crookston Hardware Hank store. That led to speculation earlier Monday that Hardware Hank might step up in Crookston as well to fill a potential license center/registrar void.

    But at Monday night’s council Ways & Means Committee meeting, after Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten’s motion to go with Stassen’s recommendation to deny a state offer died because of a lack of a second, Mayor Wayne Melbye said it was worth taking at least a couple weeks to see if it might be in the City’s best interest to take over county license center/registrar services, and offer those services downtown.

    “We’re talking about what would be a mainstay downtown, and we’re always trying to get traffic downtown,” Melbye said. “Wouldn’t it be a great anchor to have everyone in the county coming there?”

    The mayor even mentioned the possibility of the services being offered in a shared downtown location with the new Small Business Development Center (SBDC) approved by the council Monday night. It’ll initially be located at Valley Technology Park, but the idea is to relocate it downtown in a few months.

    “Can we not at least take a peek at this before we turn it down?” Melbye wondered.

    Apparently, the Polk County License Center/Deputy Registrar was a for-profit operation, but county officials say that’s no longer the case and tax levy dollars are needed to keep the office afloat. Counties are not required to offer the services, so some are starting to close up shop, step aside, and see if the local municipality or business community steps in.

    Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said he’d like to get more information on Polk County’s finances, specifically, as they relate to the license center/registrar. “I’m not interested in the City losing money on this deal, but I’d like to know more than I do now,” he said.

    Melbye said every time he goes to the Polk County Government Center, people are coming and going from the license center. It could be a nice benefit to have those people coming and going from a downtown location, he added. If the current operation isn’t making money, the mayor continued, maybe the City could come up with ways to run it in a way that is more budget-friendly.

    “If we wouldn’t try to have something like this downtown, then what would we ever want downtown?” Melbye said. “I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least go through the steps on this.”

Whiting’s follow-up

    Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting told Times Assistant Editor Jess Bengtson Monday after press time that they “probably wouldn’t” be closing the License Center if the City of Crookston or any private businesses decline any future offers from the State of Minnesota to take it over. He says there is a “viable opportunity” for someone else to relocate the service, but they have set up their county budget as if it’s “not being done.”

    “We have to go through all of this knowing our options,” explained Whiting. “The state has a role, the city has a role, interested businesses have a role, etc.

    “We won’t give it up until we know where it might go,” he added. “It’s for the state to decide and our job is to see what could be done should we give it up.

    “We want people in the Crookston area to know that things will go on business as usual,” Whiting continued. “The board has not voted on anything yet.”