Council Member Clayton Briggs voted against the transfer after stiff interactions between the group.
Crookston City Council ultimately voted to transfer $75,000 to Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) Monday evening as part of a business subsidy for Epitome Energy, but not before some stiff interactions and confusion between council members and city leaders. The transfer of funds passed on a 6-1 vote with Ward 3 City Council Member Clayton Briggs voting against.
Council Member Clayton Briggs pulled the resolution to transfer funds to CHEDA from the meeting’s consent agenda for further discussion and asked CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth if the resolution was a “loan” to CHEDA. Briggs also wondered if the funds were meant for Epitome Energy then why the council wasn’t giving/loaning those funds directly to Epitome.
Mayor Guy Martin then referenced “the first item on the agenda” (which the Times discovered he was talking about the August 19 special Ways & Means Committee meeting agenda) and asked why they weren’t privy to an “Epitome Energy loan request” before that night. Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said he made the motion at the August 19 Ways & Means meeting to approve a “transfer” of funds to CHEDA for Epitome and thought the discussion was “clear” at that meeting. Martin hastily said the discussion was “clear as mud” to him, referring to the difference between a transfer of funds and a loan. Fee replied saying the actual business subsidy agreement will be more clear when the CHEDA board meets Tuesday.
While discussing the amounts for Epitome’s subsidy, Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook said he didn’t have a problem with the city’s amount, but brought up the $350,000 the city already gave CHEDA in 2019 and wondered why CHEDA couldn’t “pony up” more money.
That’s when Monday’s conversation turned toward attendance at CHEDA board meetings when Ward 2 City Council Member and CHEDA board member Steve Erickson explained that if people don’t attend CHEDA meetings they’re not going to be privy to “where we’re going.”
Martin then said that the items on the agenda were being falsely represented to which Fee responded asking if the Mayor, himself, was in charge of the Ways & Committee meeting agendas. Mayor Martin confirmed he was.
“This has been discussed at length at CHEDA meetings,” Fee explained. “This is a big deal.”
“These negotiations could be changing daily,” he added. “Make sure you’re in communication with Craig (Hoiseth) if you can’t attend meetings.”
Hoiseth voiced that he felt that the context of Monday’s discussion was “inappropriate” and reiterated that CHEDA did not request the transfer of funds, and that the topic originated from the city council.
The Times reached out to Councilman Briggs for clarification as to why he pulled the resolution from Monday’s consent agenda and he said he wasn’t sure if the transfer of funds was for CHEDA specifically or for Epitome as it did not specify. Briggs said he has received several phone calls from people concerned about where the money allocated to CHEDA from the city goes and if Monday’s line item was for another transfer to CHEDA then he wanted an explanation.
“I’m definitely for this soybean plant (Epitome) coming; I think we need a better explanation of what’s what,” said Briggs. “We’ve got to watch our budget.”
The $250,000 business subsidy for Epitome Energy was meant to be a partnership between the City of Crookston and CHEDA with the city’s portion ($75,000) coming from their Municipal Land and Building Fund which Finance Director Angel Weasner said last week had a balance of approximately $1.2 million. Another $75,000 is expected to come from Valley Technology Park’s budget, which Weasner clarified is the city’s and not CHEDA’s, and the remaining $100,000 is to come from funds that Crookston Jobs, Inc. gifted to CHEDA when it dissolved a couple years ago.
The business subsidy that CHEDA will provide Epitome will help secure necessary air-quality research, reports and permits in connections with the development of the soybean crush and biodiesel facility to be located on the south end of Crookston. That loan amount is expected to be matched by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Epitome expects to receive additional financial assistance for the project from the Dept of Ag.
Hoiseth told the Times that Epitome’s subsidy will show that Crookston is committed to their project and without the subsidy the permits could not get done.
“All this has to work together; there are a lot of moving parts to it,” Hoiseth explained. “There could be multiple different incentives and they have to meet the conditions laid out in the agreement.”
Hoiseth added that the air permit process will take a year from beginning to end and they “really can’t do anything” in terms of moving dirt until after the permits are in hand.