Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. objects to council taking money, plans petition driveThe Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board Monday was unanimous in its objection to the City Council’s decision to take half of the 1 percent sales tax previously dedicated to economic development. “We should go on record as not approving the grand theft of this fund,” said Dick Geigle, JSDC Board member. “Four people decided to abscond with the funds the citizens voted for economic development.”
The Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board Monday was unanimous in its objection to the City Council’s decision to take half of the 1 percent sales tax previously dedicated to economic development.
“We should go on record as not approving the grand theft of this fund,” said Dick Geigle, JSDC Board member. “Four people decided to abscond with the funds the citizens voted for economic development.”
The board also voted unanimously to circulate a petition to put the issue on the ballot. The City Council opted to take the funding and extend the sales tax until 2022. In the past, voters decided every seven years on extending the tax. The next vote would have been in 2012.
“I’m opposed to the fact that this is not going back to the voters,” said Alex Schweitzer, JSDC Board member.
Geigle cited an unscientific poll being conducted online by The Jamestown Sun that indicated support for putting the issue on the ballot. At press time Monday, about 72 percent of more than 340 votes favored the tax extension being decided by a public vote.
At its March 1 meeting, the City Council had the first reading of an ordinance allocating half of the 1 percent sales tax, or about $1 million, for payment on the city’s share of special assessments. It allocated the other half for jobs development, which is the JSDC’s purview. Although the city’s responsibility for infrastructure related to economic development was verbally accepted by the council, wording in the new ordinance was not changed to reflect that.
JSDC Board President Jim Boyd said, if nothing changes, the JSDC would like to be able to recommend infrastructure projects to the city.
“Who better than the JSDC to recognize infrastructure needed for economic development,” he said. “The city isn’t structured to do this.”
Schweitzer, who was at the council meeting, said infrastructure was the issue facing council members regarding the 1 percent sales. They indicated, he said, that they would take on the $280,000 bond payment on the wastewater treatment plant and infrastructure.
“They said if they were taking away 50 percent of our ability to spend on projects, they would take economic development infrastructure,” he said. “We’re going to have a hard time just doing jobs development. We won’t have the money to do economic development infrastructure.”
Schweitzer and Boyd both said they were bothered by the lack of consideration of two proposals — one by the subcommittee working on a compromise and one the JSDC Board recommended. The subcommittee proposal was 30 percent to the city with the JSDC retaining the $280,000 payment. The board had recommended 25 percent of the sales tax going into the city’s coffers to spend as the council chose. Another 25 percent would be set aside for infrastructure for economic development.
“They never even voted on what this board recommended,” Schweitzer said. “I was told it had to do with control over the funds.”
JSDC Board member Joan Morris said she had been hearing comments on the $6.5 million the JSDC has in its reserves. She said people might think that was a lot of money to spend.
However, Morris said, with the possibility of a $30 million biomass plant near Great River Energy’s Spiritwood Station “that could be gobbled up pretty quick.”
Along with the potential biomass plant, Schweitzer said the JSDC is working on some other projects that aren’t far enough along at this point to talk about. Those projects, he said, would fill holes in the agriculture park and in the I-94 Business Park.
“And after the $6.5 million is gone, what do we use to help businesses in trouble or other projects?” Geigle said.
“When the money runs out we’re in a world of hurt because we’re not going to get the city to approve any infrastructure outside the city,” Boyd added.
Geigle wondered how long the JSDC would be able to allocate the $200,000 or more a year to the Buffalo City Tourism Foundation as well. The BCTF has increased sales tax revenue and revenue from the motel and restaurant taxes.
“We get a lot of bang for the buck with that money,” he said.
The board will meet again Monday to organize the petition drive to put the issue on the ballot.
“This is a big deal,” Boyd said.
Councilman Charlie Kourajian attended the JSDC meeting Monday.
“It’s obvious they aren’t too happy with what the City Council did and want us to reconsider our action,” Kourajian said in an interview after the meeting. “They’re quite adamant in their position and the council is quite adamant in theirs.”
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com