Economic development grant process stirs up county
The price of economic development in Carlton County just got a little higher - at least in terms of the divisiveness it has generated among government officials, members of county non-profit development corporations and the Carlton County Economi...
The price of economic development in Carlton County just got a little higher - at least in terms of the divisiveness it has generated among government officials, members of county non-profit development corporations and the Carlton County Economic Development Advisory Committee (CCEDAC).
In what was at times a heated debate at Tuesday's Carlton County Board meeting, commissioners discussed the ins and outs of the county's new economic development grant policies. In the past, blanket requests for development grants from various entities around the county were approved on an annual basis with few, if any, strings attached. Last year, however, the board decided to start requiring those entities to specify just how that grant money is going to be spent before approving the requests.
According to County Auditor Paul Gassert, the county's economic development grant funds represent a percentage of the county's yearly allotment from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Agency (IRRRA). Traditionally, the amounts have been applied for through, and recommended by, CCEDAC.
At the March 26 county board meeting, however, the board overruled some of the recommendations of the advisory group on a divided vote by reducing one of the grant requests on the grounds that some of the stated uses did not qualify as economic development according to the stated guidelines. Commissioners also voted to cap the annual grants at a maximum of $10,000.
In a motion proposed before the board this week, however, Commissioner Ted Pihlman asked that the funds that were denied be reinstated, stating he believes the board should follow the recommendations of CCEDAC.
In the discussion that ensued, Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman defended the board's decision to overrule the recommendations, pointing out that those who serve as part of the CCEDAC group are representatives from the various development groups requesting the funding.
"It's kind of a case of the fox minding the hen house," Oman stated.
The board voted to deny Pihlman's motion, but the issue went on to spawn additional debate, with Pihlman questioning why members of the CCEDAC group don't receive per diem compensation as he said most, if not all, of the other county-appointed committees do. Gassert explained that at the onset, they were compensated by the groups they represent but admitted that probably hasn't happened in some time. Pihlman was visibly upset after he offered a motion to that effect and the rest of the board voted to table it until further information can be gathered on just what other committees might be involved in a similar situation.
Further, Gassert questioned whether the CCEDAC group is actually necessary at all any longer, since the county has hired Oman to act as a full-time economic developer for the county to advise them on such matters. No further comment was made on that suggestion.
In a related matter, board members voted on four local development association grants, once again reducing at least one of the grant requests. The Mahtowa Economic Development Improvement Committee requested $6,400 to develop a five-year comprehensive strategic land use plan. The Cromwell Area Development Corporation requested $8,200 to cover the cost of forming a non-profit development organization and developing a five-year strategic comprehensive land use plan; the Carlton Area Development Corporation requested $5,000 to implement the initiatives of their comprehensive plan and develop a feasibility plan for development along Highway 210; and the Ma & Pa Kettle Committee requested $9,500, of which $5,500 for a GIS mapping plan was denied, since the county is already planning to generate such a plan itself. The remaining $2,500 of that group's request will go toward updating their comprehensive plan and related economic development initiatives.
Under the county's new guidelines, each of the groups receiving grants must now demonstrate that the money has been spent in the manner proposed and by the deadline designated.
Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: email@example.com .