Posted 9/15/15 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
After years of attempts to get a daycare project launched, proponents on Monday found the keys to unlocking city support, walking away with a grant of $400,000 in city sales tax money.
“Thank you!” said 3-year-old Harper Lund at the conclusion of her mother’s presentation before the city council.
About a dozen daycare families, including children, were in attendance in support of the non-profit volunteers who run Crosby Kids Daycare.
The presentation began with a request to wipe the slate clean on past discussions, any past expenditures toward such a project and previously pledged funds by the city.
“We are simply coming and asking for $400,000 over two budget years,” said Traci Lund, along with an exemption from property tax for five years.
Daycare board members outlined other funds available, including a $100,000 donation from an anonymous donor and a $250,000 package through the North Dakota Department of Commerce, which will require a match of $87,000 already pledged by the Divide County Economic Development Council (DCEDC).
In addition, supporters showed a contractor’s rendering of the proposed facility -- a 7,200 square foot structure estimated at a total cost of $1.06 million, pared down from an originally-desired 8,400 square feet and $1.3 million price tag.
Lund acknowledged the significant cost but countered by pointing out “this isn’t a house. This is a business, this is a facility.”
DCEDC member Robbi Larsen compared the sum and circumstances to the council’s recent action, contained within a single discussion, to give $300,000 for the park board’s construction of a splash pad.
“I’m not saying you have to decide tonight but it shouldn’t be a huge decision to give at least what you gave them,” Larsen said.
Others in the audience made reference to the many permutations of a possible daycare project over months, if not years, to which Mayor Bert Anderson replied, “This is the first time we have had a plan with numbers,” to consider.
Councilman Doug Anderson asked whether the county has been approached for assistance.
Board members said county commissioners have promised “in kind” support, but it has yet to be determined what form that support might take.
While Doug Anderson expressed disappointment in that news, Councilman Troy Vassen said “it doesn’t mean the city can’t act first.”
He called the plan as outlined “great” and cheaper by two-thirds the cost of a plan backed by former Mayor Les Bakken, which would have included apartments and ongoing city involvement.
As currently configured, “it’s not in our hands to run,” said Vassen, an aspect the mayor also said he appreciated.
Following a motion by Brian Haugenoe to offer the requested grant over two years and a second by Vassen, further discussion determined the money should come out of the city’s sales tax fund.
The council indicated they are receptive to a five year property tax exemption, but declined to act on that request until the proper application is submitted.
Crosby Attorney Liz Pendlay appeared before the council with her client, Joel Benson, owner of the former Tuftedal building, which has been the subject of discussion at several recent meetings.
Pendlay took the council to task for what appeared, based on reports in the newspaper, to be an attempt on the part of the council at “abuse of process.”
Specifically, said Pendlay, “that if Mr. Benson chose not to deal with or cede to the purchase price he would be turned in to the health department.”
Further distressing, she said, were characterizations that Benson was delinquent on his taxes, which is false.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that’s what came out in the paper,” said Councilman Wayne Benter.
“There was no discussion about turning him into the health department? So that was completely fabricated on the part of the press?” asked Pendlay.
“It was kind of a surprise to us, too, when the paper came out,” said Benter.
Due to a technical issue, no recording of last month’s council meeting exists.
Pendlay told the council she has a written deposition from former Journal News Editor John Taylor regarding the city’s discussion of Benson’s building. A copy of the deposition was not presented to the council at the meeting, but was provided to The Journal, upon request, at press time Tuesday. Taylor made the personal statement after giving notice in August that he had taken a job in South Dakota and without the knowledge of The Journal’s publisher.
Mayor Anderson said the council voted at last month’s meeting to offer Benson $10,000, based in part on estimates of what it may cost to tear down the building and deal with possible asbestos abatement.
When pressed by Pendlay for details on these estimates, Councilman Wayne Benter said no written estimates for the work exist.
The mayor apologized for having entered Benson’s building without his permission when an asbestos contractor was granted access to it.
The discussion concluded with Pendlay suggesting Benson prepare an offer for the council’s consideration and the mayor agreeing to receive it.
In other business, the council: