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Posted on February 10, 2020 at 9:00 AM by Bryan Obenchain
A pair of recent letters to the editor in The Minot Daily News focused on a topic that municipal governments deal with on a daily basis: Needs vs. wants.
In the first letter from two weeks ago, it was noted that in 2016, Minot’s budget was roughly $125.7 million, while the budget for 2020 was approximately $274 million. While those numbers are accurate, the letter disregarded critical information that explains why the 2020 budget is $274 million.
Compared to the 2019 budget, the 2020 budget increased by roughly $95 million. But on closer inspection, given the fact that the City’s mill levy actually decreased slightly for 2020, it’s clear that the increase in spending is on major projects that have been planned for and accounted for in the budget:
Those five categories alone make up $87.4 million of the increase for 2020. Of the $95 million in new spending, $55 million will come from federal and state funding sources. Of the remaining $40 million, the City has been allocating funds for specific projects for years, including flood control and the Northwest Area Water Supply project. Now, those funds must be included in the budget in order to be utilized this year, so in reality, we’re simply spending money for its intended purposes.
Is flood control, both inside the City of Minot and throughout the rest of the basin a need or a want? I think that’s an easy answer. The City of Minot remains committed to doing whatever it can to help fund flood protection throughout the Souris River basin. Currently, work is under way on Phases 1-3, with Phase 4 (Maple Diversion) waiting for congressional approval and potential funding. Design work for Phase 5’s original alignment is complete, but due to complications with the ability to cross Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s main line, a revised alignment is under consideration, and the City is gathering public input. With the current combination of local, state, and federal funding, we’re utilizing the resources available to us while continuing to advocate for funding for future phases.
Are water projects, including NAWS, a need or a want? Again, I don’t think that’s a difficult question to answer. Minot committed long ago to the completion of NAWS, not only for the benefit of our community, but for the benefit of smaller cities throughout this region. By utilizing the money we’ve saved for years, we can avoid further bonding for NAWS. Wouldn’t you choose to spend the money you’ve saved for years rather than take out a loan and pay interest?
Is spending $9.3 million for highway projects in 2020 a need or a want, considering nearly the entire amount is for the reconstruction of 31st Avenue Southwest between Broadway and 13th Street SE? Is $8.7 million for capital purchases a need or a want, given that nearly all of that amount is for a potential City Hall relocation and beginning construction of Fire Station 5 in northwest Minot? Again, I think those are easy answers.
The first letter and a more recent letter both referenced the potential of moving City Hall to a new downtown location, questioning the City’s need for a building with three times as much space as the current location.
Operationally, there are logical reasons for seeking a new building. The current City Hall, built in 1956, was constructed for a Minot that is much different than today. Everything about municipal government has changed since 1956, and because of that natural growth and progression, there are more employees in the finance department, utility billing, human resources, the Police Department, and the City attorney’s office. Even without accounting for future growth, we’ve run out of room at City Hall.
Because of a lack of space, many City employees are not currently located in City Hall where they should be. Information technology employees are housed in offices in the Minot Municipal Auditorium, as is the staff of our Public Information Office. Employees in the National Disaster Resilience office are located at Public Works. There is no dedicated space for the mayor or City Council in the current City Hall should we need to have private meetings with members of the public.
The most recent letter questioned what would happen to buildings where City staff members are currently located should some employees move to a relocated City Hall, specifically Municipal Court. If Municipal Court were moved to a relocated City Hall, the Minot Park District would surely make good use of the space Municipal Court is currently occupying in the Minot Municipal Auditorium. I’m confident the Park District would also find good uses for the space the IT and PIO departments currently occupy in the Auditorium.
To be clear, City employees will not be vacating entire buildings if City Hall is relocated.
And let’s not forget that one of the main reasons we included a new City Hall in our NDR plan was to move Central Dispatch out of the Police Department and into a location that was secure from potential flooding. The Police Department would then utilize that vacated space for its growing technology and equipment needs.
If we were only moving the departments currently at City Hall to a new location, I agree that there would be less need for additional space. But that’s not the plan at all. A new, larger City Hall will be a one-stop location for members of the public, where they can easily pay a bill, ask a question of the Public Information Office, interact with multiple departments, or meet with a member of the City Council.
Providing members of the public with a central location with better access to their municipal government and their elected leaders, while at the same time creating operational efficiencies and moving the critical Central Dispatch out of harm’s way, sure seems like much more than a want.
Sincerely, City Hall
Posted on January 27, 2020 at 9:18 AM by Bryan Obenchain
The City of Minot was afforded an opportunity to travel to West Fargo in August 2019 to see first-hand a project that blends commercial development with low-to-moderate income housing. It was a trip well-worth taking.
City Manager Tom Barry, National Disaster Resilience Program Manager John Zakian, and Community Development Director Brian Billingsley made the trip; I was invited, but existing commitments prevented me from joining the group. However, I did approve the trip for the other three officials.
EPIC Companies, a statewide developer that already successfully partnered with the City on the Park South housing project and had successfully built a similar commercial/housing project in Minot with the Beaver Ridge development, used its own funds to sponsor a trip for the three officials to West Fargo on a chartered plane.
The purpose of the trip was simple: The developer was seeking to invest in Minot, and wanted to educate City leaders about similar successful projects of theirs in West Fargo. The City took this opportunity to do its due diligence on vetting a public-private development partnership by seeing how the developer has been successful with a neighboring city. Months prior to the trip, EPIC Companies had already competed and won an open Request for Proposals process to build a mixed use, low-to-moderate income housing development in Minot that is now known as Blu on Broadway. That project will construct a building on South Broadway that includes commercial space and 42 units of low-to-moderate income housing by utilizing private funding and funding from Minot’s NDR program.
The tour in West Fargo allowed Minot officials to see first-hand a similar, existing project, and how the Minot project might compare in scope and appearance. They visited other mixed-use buildings, as well as rehabilitated and new buildings. In addition, the Minot group met with West Fargo economic development leaders to discuss their city’s collaboration on similar mixed-use projects. They also discussed West Fargo’s programming approach and management of a public gathering space with West Fargo Events, a non-profit organization that provides events for youth and the community to enhance quality of life.
Additionally, as part of the discussions, Minot leaders inquired about creating Tax Increment Financing districts, something the City is considering for the first time, but have been done successfully in West Fargo.
There were several benefits to traveling to West Fargo with the developer. First, no taxpayer funds were used for this trip, no expenses were incurred by the City, and the trip was completed in one day. Second, the trip allowed our staff and consultants to construct one of the most protective and City beneficial agreements we’ve ever had on a project using federal Community Development Block Grant funding. I felt it was important for this agreement to protect the City, and it does that by requiring the developer to spend their dollars first, before the grant funds can be used. The agreement also gives the City personal guarantees that the project will remain on scope, on time, and on budget, all issues we’ve had with previous projects. Since the RFP had already been awarded to EPIC Companies long before this trip, I believe any conflict of interest had been eliminated.
Lastly, the information gathered in West Fargo will be invaluable as we continue to move forward with creating more low-to-moderate income housing in Minot, which was an important piece of the action plan we submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the $74.3 million we were awarded through the NDR program.
We fully expect Blu on Broadway to be a successful endeavor that can serve as an example to other potential developers that such public/private partnerships can work for the betterment of Minot just as they have done in other North Dakota cities, like Fargo and West Fargo.
Posted on December 30, 2019 at 11:38 AM by Bryan Obenchain
“One voice. One mission. One Minot.”
That will be the focus of our third annual State of the City on Feb. 6, which will again be held at the Arvel Graving Theater at Minot’s Magic City Campus. Beginning at 4:45 p.m. with a traveling City Hall that includes department heads and other City employees, the event includes a speech and presentation by me and a social hour.
It’s an important opportunity for community members to discuss City ideas and projects up close and personal with department heads and the members of the City Council. It’s also a chance to voice your input on our community’s vision during one of the most important times in our City’s history, as we push ahead with major infrastructure projects that will protect our community and its residents for decades to come. We hope you’ll join us on Feb. 6.
One exciting aspect of this year’s State of the City is an opportunity for community members to provide us with their artistic vision of Minot – literally, by participating in the “Minot Through Your Eyes” contest.
The guidelines for the photo/video contest are simple: Submit original photos, videos, or works of art that show “Minot Through Your Eyes.” You can submit your entries at https://www.minotnd.org/667/Mayors-Community-Challenge or through Instragram using #myminot or #oneminot. The winners will be announced and shown as part of my speech during the State of the City event.
We expect the submissions to illustrate the diverse views of our community. That’s exactly the point of the “Minot Through Your Eyes” contest. It’s your perception or view of our community, and no one can take that away from you. Ask everyone in Minot to visually describe Minot, and you’ll get thousands of different opinions and views.
Perhaps it’s a photo of a landmark of our city, like the Theodore Roosevelt statue, a particularly photogenic old building in our historic downtown, or the Dome at Minot State University. It could be one of our rambunctious animal friends at Roosevelt Park Zoo, or children playing in your neighborhood. Or, a scenic view of Minot, maybe along the banks of the Souris River.
Or, maybe it’s a video taken during one of the major events our community hosts every year, like the Norsk Hostfest or the North Dakota State Fair. It could be video of a dramatic sunset or sunrise, or watching the wonder of a young child as you drive through the iconic Christmas in the Park light display put on every year in Oak Park.
Then again, maybe it’s a watercolor painting in a local park, or a pencil drawing of the old walking bridge that leads to the Eastwood Park section of town.
The point is, it’s your view of Minot we’re interested in. The subject matter might be important only to you, or to your family, but that’s what makes this contest unique. “Minot Through Your Eyes” can truly mean something different to every resident of our community, and we’re looking forward to the beauty and history of our city, captured by you.
We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to not only showcase your artistic talent, but to highlight aspects of Minot that not everyone sees on a regular basis.
We look forward to seeing “Minot Through Your Eyes,” and we look forward to seeing you Feb. 6 at the State of the City.
You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.