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Development funding looks uncertain

Posted 12/22/15 (Tue)

By Cecile Krimm
The future of Crosby’s city sales tax, a downturn in funding for a regional development council and the re-prioritizing of Small Business Development Center funding are all signs creating questions for the future operation of the Divide County Jobs Development Authority.
When the board held its regular monthly meeting Wednesday last week, they approved a zero salary increase for Developer KayCee Lindsey -- a move she also endorsed.
The JDA is dependent on the City of Crosby’s sales tax for about half of Lindsey’s salary. A smaller amount of funds -- about $5,000 -- comes from a contract with the SBDC, which cut funding for the Williston Region by 10 percent this year.
Lindsey said, while that cut is concerning, it’s not a large amount.
More concerning, said Chairman Doug Graupe, is the fact the City of Crosby likely will put the continuation of its city sales tax on the ballot in June.
A portion of Lindsey’s salary is funded by the tax.
Also concerning, he said, is the future viability of Tri County Regional Development Council.
While Tri County doesn’t provide direct funds to the JDA, its staff has provided countless services to projects in Divide County over the past 25 years.
Graupe, who also sits on the Tri County board, said Tri County always made most of its budget through the administration of Community Development Block Grant projects.
While the state kicked in more money this year to allow the council to keep offering services in the rural communities, block grant monies are tending to go more to “hub” cities like Fargo, Minot and Bismarck.
Graupe said Tri County’s funding for 2016 is so-so, but workable, however “’17 is really questionable . . . they’re basically going broke.”
Another board Graupe sits on, the Burke Divide Williams water board, may have some significant funds he will recommend they relinquish to Tri County, in recognition and support of the regional council’s work on the water pipeline that is now being taken over by Williams Rural Water.
Graupe noted that while the state gave authority for the regional councils to be established, there is no mechanism for their financial support.
He is hoping legislators will remedy that situation in the 2017 session.
“Otherwise, I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to keep going,” he said.
One reason CDBG funds have been less available in recent years -- cutting into the administrative fees Tri County may receive -- is that the program has a requirement of service to low-income people, and the oil boom significantly changed the ability of oil patch communities to meet that requirement.
Filter sock building
The board also discussed what might be done to help the City of Noonan facilitate the removal of a building near the town’s entrance, which last winter was the site of a discovery of radioactive filter socks.
Lindsey said she can look into the process of having it declared a “brownfield,” but based on the inability to use that federal program for cleaning up the former Fortuna Radar Station, Chairman Doug Graupe said he doubts any funds will be available.
Board member and fellow county commissioner Gerald Brady agrees.
“It’s almost got to be deemed a public hazard before they’ll step in,” he said.
Lindsey said she is surprised the state doesn’t have a similar program of its own.
She said the owners of the property -- whose whereabouts are unknown -- are two years in arrears on the taxes, so the building could be forfeited to the city in another year. Once that occurs, the city will have to determine what’s to be done with the property.
“When you drive by and look at that building I am just amazed it hasn’t blown over with the winds we have had,” she said.
In other business, the board:
nLearned of an award of $2,000 from the Northwest Community Foundation to the Crosby Kids Daycare project. 
nHeard the Fortuna Senior Citizens are still seeking about $15,000 in funds for the payoff on building improvements. The city intends to cover the costs in the interim
nHeard Lindsey’s plan to begin development of a tuition repayment or housing down-payment incentive for skilled tradesmen and other professionals that could be needed in the community to replace people who could decide to retire within a few years.

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