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Organizations request city funding in Willmar mayor's proposed 2014 budget

WILLMAR — Three organizations this week requested city funding in Mayor Frank Yanish's 2014 proposed budget.

Representatives from the Willmar Design Center, Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center and West Central Integration Collaborative made requests during a workshop session for the City Council's four-member Finance Committee and three other council members.

The workshop setting gives all council members an opportunity to ask questions about the requests.

The organizations are among seven seeking a combined $169,500 in city funding next year. The requests amount to less than 1 percent of the overall $15,528,583 general operating fund.

Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said the requests will be taken for information and will be discussed later.

According to the council's budget calendar, the council between now and November will hold workshops as necessary, and receive citizen and public comments and funding requests, leading up to adoption of the 2014 levy and budget Dec. 2.

Requests from the other four organizations — $2,000 for the Community Marketing Coalition, $28,000 for the Humane Society, $15,000 for West Central Industries and $25,000 for Willmar Fests — will be made later.

Yanish proposes eliminating funding for the Design Center, the Integration Collaborative and for the Marketing Coalition.

Also, Yanish proposes eliminating dues for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and National League of Cities.

Questions and comments from committee and council members included how long organizations would continue to request city funding, what are the benefits to the city by funding the organizations, and the possibility of using reserve funds to fund the organizations.

Those who spoke Monday evening were John O. Christianson, Design Center treasurer; Roberto Valdez, Business Center executive director; and Idalia "Charly'' Leuze, collaborative executive director.

The Design Center was established in 2005 with the goal of restoring the heart of the city and has received city funding since 2007. The center has a 2014 budget of $90,500 with funding coming from other sources in addition to the city's contribution.

The center is requesting $58,500 in 2014, up from $32,000 in 2013. The increase will pay $25,000 for services of a landscape architect to complete the Glacial Lakes Trail extension project to downtown Selvig Park; prioritize the funding search for the Becker Avenue redesign; and work on Selvig Park trail-head schematic design, all of which are in the council-approved downtown plan.

City funding would also allow one person to attend the Main Street National Conference, which represents progressive cities working on positive change and development and has generated ideas that the Design Center has been deploying, said Christianson.

He said city funding provides a credibility factor when the center applies for other funding and grants.

During 2012-2013, the center used city funding to assist the city in moving forward with the downtown plan, downtown parking assessment, and trail transportation grant; and revising downtown ordinances.

This was the Business Center's first request, which is $20,000, said Valdez. The center's mission is to help establish and promote new and culturally diverse business in the Willmar area through support and training.

The center's vision, according to the funding application, "is to be recognized and accepted as the premier assets-building resource in west central Minnesota for culturally diverse business development and economic stability.''

Valdez said city support is important when applying for grants. He said funding proposals are sometimes not considered if the applicant does not have city support.

Valdez was asked by council member Ron Christianson if the center will be making annual requests and if Valdez anticipates that future requests will be larger. Christianson applauded the center's effort but said he asks questions because he and citizens want details.

Valdez said he did not know if future requests would be larger. He said the number of ethnic businesses has grown from 3 to more than 60. He said the center touched 54 of those and he said the center has promoted the city well wherever members have traveled.

"I think it would be a good start for everything we've done in the past with zero contribution,'' he said.

The collaborative promotes cultural integration in education, health and business, and promotes multicultural and culturally sensitive school and community projects, according to the center's funding request.

City funding began in 2002-2003 and has decreased from $42,000 in each of 2011 and 2012 to $21,000 in 2013. Leuze said the city's contribution in the center's $1,365,779 budget provides interpretation language services at a below-market rate to help city staff communicate with newcomers and immigrants.

Also, Leuze said the center has provided cultural training to city staff, and works with parks and recreation staff to offer cultural activities.

If funding ended and interpretation services were no longer provided, the city would struggle to communicate with newcomers and immigrants, said City Administrator Charlene Stevens.

She speaks Spanish but doesn't use it daily, Stevens said. Depending how technical it is, she may be able to assist individuals if she were present at city offices. Otherwise, staff would try to use other services or an interpreter if individuals brought one with them.

Stevens said the city would have to pay for services if documents or notices needed translation.

Anderson said the council has to determine if the city is receiving its money's worth from the $21,000 investment.

Collaborative finance coordinator Leslie Kelly said the city actually received interpretation services in the amount of $31,000 in 2013 or an average of about $30 an hour. If the city were to hire the service, non-partnering agencies would charge $50 to $65 an hour, said Kelly.

Leuze said the city used about 250 hours of written translation and 100 hours of oral translation. Ron Christianson asked to see details to make an educated decision on the funding request.

More information is available at the City of Willmar's website, by clicking on Sept. 9 Finance Committee meeting date.

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