Quanrud, Vedbraaten and Fee think so; mayor thinks current process works pretty well

    The Crookston City Council this week approved a $50,000 draw on the City’s general fund reserves to get CHEDA’s new Building Better Business (B3) program off the ground in 2019, and the council’s action spurred a discussion that pops up now and then about the way the City funds CHEDA each year, and the amount of that funding.

    With the City’s 2019 preliminary budget and levy set and talks continuing as both become permanent in December, At Large City Council Member Bob Quanrud – voicing sentiments largely echoed by Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten, and, to a lesser extent, Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee – said council members as they continue to hash out future budgets need to consider investing more in CHEDA, and on a more consistent basis.

    The City every year provides a stipend to CHEDA to assist with its operations. Often the stipend remains unchanged for multiple years, but sometimes it increases. CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth in his 2019 budget is asking the City for a $140,000 stipend.

    But the City, through council action, has a history of sending more money CHEDA’s way when it’s available, or when CHEDA has a specific initiative in mind worthy of City investment. A few years ago, due in part to a one-time boost in the state’s Local Government Allocation to Crookston, the council allotted an additional couple hundred thousand dollars to CHEDA, and some of that money launched the housing rehab program that continues today and is seen as a success by all involved.

    Quanrud would like to see the City make increased investments in CHEDA more often, even if the council doesn’t exactly know beforehand what Hoiseth and his board of directors ends up spending the money on.

    “We’ve talked before about giving CHEDA money to use at their discretion for (business development) so they don’t have to keep coming back (to the council) for things,” Quanrud said. “But (those talks) have never gone very far. I’d like to include (more talks on the subject) in the near future. …What would it take to fund some of this stuff instead of (CHEDA) coming back to us all the time?”

    Vedbraaten, noting council members who sit on the CHEDA Board and other council members who regularly attend board meetings, added that it’s not like the council would be out of the loop on what CHEDA has in mind for the City money.

    To that, Mayor Wayne Melbye noted that Vedbraaten had previously questioned where the $50,000 for the B3 program was coming from, and, the mayor added, the council probably doesn’t want to make dipping into general fund reserves a habit. He suggested a potential increased City investment in CHEDA to be included in the council’s long-term budget planning; maybe, he said, the council could set a little bit of money aside each year and let the balance build up to assist with major things CHEDA has in the works.

    “Are you going to raise taxes 22 percent to give CHEDA more money?” Melbye wondered. “…It’s hard to give them $300,000 or $400,000 out of reserves; maybe we get some of that back, or it might be all gone.”

    The mayor said that Hoiseth over the years hasn’t been afraid to come to the council in search of additional City investment when particular investment opportunities have arisen. “I think Craig knows that if he finds projects and comes to us and they’re worthy, we’ll fund them,” Melbye said.

    Fee noted that the City has “enterprise funds” with “healthy” balances that could be potential funding sources for increased City investment in CHEDA.

Wish list

    At the CHEDA Board meeting earlier this month, a similar discussion commenced, with Fee saying he doesn’t want the City to write CHEDA a “blank check,” but that he wants to avoid CHEDA potentially coming up with a “good program” that ends up “falling apart” when it reaches the council.

    “I would rather see our EDA do what they’re charged to do and give them funding for what they want to do,” Fee said.

    Asked what he might do with more City money, Hoiseth said he does, in fact, have a “wish list” and he mentioned things having to do with the Colborn property on the south edge of town, the Casey’s General Store property, Oak Court roof and elevator improvements (it’s owned by CHEDA), information technology support, more housing rehab, and workforce development with the high school and U of M Crookston, among other things.