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No action is taken after Willmar, Minn., council debates Vision 2040 participation

WILLMAR -- City Council members this week debated but took no action on possibly rescinding an earlier decision to help fund the cost of participating in the proposed Vision 2040 long-range community planning process.

The city will join the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Willmar Public Schools and Kandiyohi County -- each contributing $5,000 -- toward the cost of hiring a facilitator and developing a long-range plan to meet community needs.

A similar process called Vision 2020 began in late 1999, ended in 2008 and resulted in a number of new programs and facilities. Organizers say much has changed since 1999 and they say community leaders agree a new visioning process is needed.

Nearly all council members voted Oct. 1 to participate in Vision 2040. They also voted to commit $5,000 toward the cost and directed staff to determine whether funding was available in 2012 or 2013.

Monday night's debate first centered on a motion by Jim Dokken, seconded by Steve Ahmann, to rescind the $5,000 commitment, which would be paid to the Chamber, even though city officials indicated that they had already arranged to make the payment.

The motion originated last week in the Community Development Committee, which Dokken chairs. Committee members Ahmann and Ron Christianson supported the motion to rescind the commitment and member Bruce DeBlieck did not.

Ahmann said he did not believe it's right that the city government gives money to an outside special interest group regardless of who it is without due documentation. The City Council is looking after the city funds, he said.

"It is a little unusual for us to appropriate money to another group without knowing what the appropriations are going to be spent for and for what amount,'' Ahmann said.

"We have no documentation showing the total cost of the project, which I support, but nothing what the cost breakdown is to be. I've not seen that,'' he said.

The council's Finance Committee approved the project request Sept. 24 after Chamber President Ken Warner and project steering committee member Ron Erpelding presented a Vision 2040 summary with a $27,000 estimated cost for hiring a consultant from Madison, Wis., for a two-day planning session.

"What are we doing?'' asked Denis Anderson, Finance Committee chair, during Monday night's debate. "I'm totally confused. I see nothing in here that enlightens me in any way. I don't understand this. We had two representatives here and we probably had a half-hour or better discussion where I thought it was all vetted and we're ready to go. Now, all of a sudden, we're going to un-fund it? We're not making one bit of sense, at least not to me. This is nonsense.''

In response, Mayor Frank Yanish asked Anderson, "Have you ever heard of making a mistake?''

"Certainly,'' Anderson replied. "But if you remember, we had a lengthy discussion. I'm a huge advocate of this Vision 2040. I look at the benefits we've gotten from (Vision) 2020. Why would we not? We contribute a portion of the cost and we get the benefit of all of it.''

Yanish asked if the check had been made out to the Chamber.

Finance Director Steve Okins said his office received a requisition from the city administrator's office and processed it and sent it to the Chamber. He said $2,500 was charged to the 2012 budget and $2,500 was charged to 2013 as a prepayment.

"So the check written was for $5,000?'' Yanish asked.

"Correct,'' said Okins.

DeBlieck said pulling funds away now would be a disaster for the council. He acknowledged Ahmann's concern for accountability but said the Chamber will be fully accountable for the money.

DeBlieck said he opposed the motion in committee and said he still opposed the motion to rescind the payment.

"It does not make any sense whatsoever,'' he said.

Doug Reese said the council set the policy after a long discussion and appropriated the funds.

"If we want an accounting of the funds, I'm sure they'll supply it,'' he said. "For us to even think of rescinding and asking for the money back, I absolutely don't want to be a part of that.''

Tim Johnson said he could see both sides.

"I think we could leave the money and work on our policy before the money is due to be spent, and work with the Chamber on that,'' he said.

Ahmann said he was not opposed to participating in Vision 2040 but said his intent in seconding the motion was to discuss a request to develop a policy for funding outside organizations. He withdrew his second and Dokken withdrew his motion.

The council briefly discussed but did not act on a second motion to have the council reconsider participating in Vision 2040.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said she understands the council's direction is to leave the funds as they are and to work on a policy through the Finance Committee on how future funds will be expended and how they are administered.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150