Mayor says Hoiseth is already pursuing two 'worthy' projects, but nothing can be discussed publicly yet.
After the Crookston City Council’s Ways & Means Committee voted 6-3 three weeks ago in favor of taking $350,000 in City of Crookston budget reserves in 2019 and allocating it to the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA), the council this week voted 6-2 to officially invest the additional funds in CHEDA next year.
Council members Clayton Briggs and Dennis Regan voted against. Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook, who voted against three weeks ago, indicated during this week’s debate that he was still torn on the matter, but he ended up voting in favor.
(The committee vote was 6-3 because the mayor casts votes on matters at the committee level, but votes on matters before the council only in the event of a tie council vote.)
Briggs said his main concern and the concern he said he’s hearing from the community is the lack of details regarding how the $350,000 will be spent. He also noted that the City’s annual stipend for CHEDA in 2019 is $140,000, up $10,000 from the $130,000 stipend over the past few years, and, Briggs continued, the council previously committed $50,000 in City funds in 2019 for CHEDA’s new B3 (Building Better Business) initiative. “That’s $540,000,” Briggs said. “I can’t see that kind of money going out. …I see it as an open check.”
Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten countered that CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth is paid a “very good” wage, “And we shouldn’t leave him sitting out there with no tools in the tool box,” he added.
Proponents of the investment noted the significant council member presence on the CHEDA Board of Directors, and said that Hoiseth and his board will “be accountable for every penny” of the $350,000.
Although Hoiseth, when pressed recently, listed a “wish list” of things he’d invest in if he had more funding at his disposal, listed things relating to information technology and added investments at the CHEDA-owned Oak Court Apartments, proponents of allocating the $350,000 also noted that Hoiseth has “red-lined” those potential investments in favor of things that will directly involve economic development, job creation and things that grow Crookston’s tax base. (Hoiseth, on vacation, was not in attendance at this week’s council meting.)
Mayor Wayne Melbye, who said he recently consulted with Hoiseth on his spending priorities, indicated that there are two projects being looked at, but at this point statute allows that they be discussed in sessions closed to the public and media. “If you disclose them (publicly), you know how prices go up when the City is looking to buy something,” Melbye said. “I know it’s kind of a good-faith deal, but for the sake of price, you can’t be as visible. …I can see (approving the $350,000) because there are at least two projects that we as a council have wanted to happen. Hopefully the explanation can come later. I don’t know how much I can share, but I will just say the projects (Hoiseth) shared with me are worthy.”
Stainbrook reiterated that the council is going to want to know where the money is going and how it’s being spent. “We’ve drawn down our City funds, and I don’t care if you’re public, private, a non-profit or whatever, you’ve got to bring a game plan on where this money’s going to be spent,” he said. “Anytime one of our department heads is looking for a nickel, we want to know where it’s going. I’m all for economic development, but I want to see it spent in the right place.”
While understanding that not everything can be detailed in a public setting, at least early on, Stainbrook said that he still feels out of the loop sometimes, even as an ex-officio member of the CHEDA Board. “Sometimes I feel there’s too many secrets that I’m not hearing about,” he said. “I do talk to (Hoiseth) every few weeks, but sometimes I feel that I’m not getting the whole story on different projects.”