Payment eventually approved, but Hoiseth will see if he can negotiate a better deal

    Very rarely are any questions asked by Crookston City Council members about the resolution on the council’s consent agenda every two weeks approving the latest run of bills and disbursements.

    But at the council’s first meeting of 2019 Monday evening, At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten had the usually routine resolution added to the regular agenda for further discussion because he wasn’t yet satisfied with the City paying $3,000 to the Northwest Minnesota Multi-County HRA office in Mentor to handle Small Cities Development Grant Program tasks that Vedbraaten said the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) might be qualified to do, potentially free of charge.

    The Multi-County HRA has a relationship covering many years with the City when it comes to coordinating and administering SCDP funds, which are under the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) umbrella. At the council’s final meeting of 2018 in late December, the council approved a transfer of funds from available grant-related dollars to cover an increase in the number of commercial rehab-related grant requests related to the City’s latest batch of SCDP funds targeted at downtown commercial and rental rehab projects. At that meeting, Vedbraaten and At Large Council Member Bobby Baird asked why a local agency such as CHEDA wasn’t handling a project that involved “Crookston money.”

    Asked on Dec. 26 by Vedbraaten if local City staff were qualified to handle the grant-related work, City Administrator Shannon Stassen said they were not, and cited Multi-County HRA’s expertise in handling such matters.

    Fast forward to Monday, and Vedbraaten said he asked to pull the latest bill run from the consent agenda because, he noted, he’d spoken to CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth after the Dec. 26 council meeting, and Hoiseth indicated he thought CHEDA staff could handle the job. Hoiseth added during Monday’s debate that, while the decision would ultimately be up to his board of directors, he didn’t think CHEDA would necessarily charge the City an administrative fee to do the grant-related work.

    (Multi County HRA would typically charge a 15 percent administrative fee, which would amount to $3,000 in relation to the transfer of $20,000 to cover the bump in commercial rehab project requests from the latest round of SCDP grant funds.)

    But, Hoiseth added, he’d prefer to let Northwest Minnesota Multi-County HRA handle the current grant projects, with the potential that CHEDA sit down with Multi-County HRA in the future to see if they could potentially hammer out a more favorable agreement.

    Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said he could “think of 3,000 reasons” to come up with an agreement better than the current one. “Giving $3,000 to Multi-County to write a check seems excessive,” he said.

    To that, Stassen said Multi-County HRA handles the SCDP grants from writing the grant applications themselves to administering them to completion. “They’ve been a great partner,” he said, adding that the agency works well with several communities. “…The HRA has done this for many years, they know the ins and outs and have a long, long track record of success. It makes sense to finish off this grant with the group that started this.”

    Vedbraaten initially made a motion to use local staff to do the grant work and “see how it goes.” As part of that, he suggested taking the $20,000 for the grant fund transfer from the current bill run and give it to CHEDA to distribute instead of Multi-County HRA.

    Hoiseth said it would be easier and he would prefer to have the current batch of bills approved as is, and then he’d interface with Multi-County HRA and see if a better arrangement could be negotiated. Asked by Fee if he was confident he could make that happen, Hoiseth said, “I’ve always found Multi-County to be very cooperative on our efforts together in Crookston.”

    Baird voted against the resolution approving the bills, as did new Ward 4 Council Member Don Cavalier. “We don’t know what the result is going to be, and that’s the problem,” Cavalier noted.