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Willmar council members debate EDC reserves and budget

WILLMAR — Three Willmar City Council members this week debated the pros and cons of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission’s $734,751 reserves.

The discussion came during council consideration of the EDC’s 2014 budget, which ultimately was approved unanimously.

Council member Steve Ahmann, who serves on the EDC Joint Powers Board, said during a 30-minute discussion that the reserves are not designated. He said the EDC has no capital improvement plans and no debts.

Ahmann said the reserve is taxpayers’ money and he said it should be returned to the taxpayers.

Steve Renquist, EDC executive director, said the reserve is a considerable amount of money. Of that amount, nearly $400,000 came in 2003 from the former County Rural Development Finance Authority and $115,000 in 2009 from what was the county’s economic development revolving loan fund.

He said the county requires those funds be used only for revolving loans. If the EDC breaks up, Renquist said, that money returns to the county.

Renquist said auditors recommend keeping 50 percent of the budget in reserves to avoid borrowing to finance operations. Also, the city and county contributed grants totaling $150,000 for a possible railroad bypass in west Willmar and to bring rail traffic into the industrial park.

Council member Ron Christianson, who also sits on the EDC Joint Powers Board, said he believes in having a reserve, which he said has grown since 2003. He said the city and county have reserves and he thought the city would step up if a big project came down the pike.

He said the EDC reserve is taxpayers’ dollars and that he understood Renquist’s position. But he was unsure how to handle it.

Council member Denis Anderson is the third city member on the EDC Joint Powers Board, which also includes three members of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

The Joint Powers Board approved the $511,207 budget and $455,000 property tax levy Nov. 21.

Anderson said there has been discussion and perhaps misleading information regarding the EDC’s reserves. He reminded everyone that the board approved the budget after debate and some give and take.

“This was the recommendation,’’ he said. “Remember, it’s a joint decision, not just city of Willmar decision.’’

Mayor Frank Yanish wanted to open discussion of the EDC budget to the audience of about 20 people. But City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the matter was not a public hearing. Yanish said the budget was listed on the agenda as a public hearing, but Anderson said it was not.

Yanish again tried to open the matter to the public, and Stevens again said it was not a public hearing. Yanish then turned discussion over to the council. The council eventually approved the budget 8-0.

Council sets 2014 city levy, budget

The council approved the 2014 city property tax levy of $4,139,734 which includes $147,000 for street and infrastructure improvements.

The council approved the separate $170,000 property tax levy for the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The council also approved the 2014 city budget of $34,043,843. The budget consists of five areas: general operating — $15,757,236; capital improvement — $6,870,450; special revenue/internal — 671,268; debt service — $2,499,201; and enterprise (wastewater) — $8,245,688.

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