Groups pursue funds

Organizations will need to be enterprising to get a share of the city sales tax in Minot’s Community Facilities Fund.

The Minot City Council’s Community Development Committee held off on making any funding recommendations Tuesday to get more information about how proposed projects meet constitutional muster as city “enterprises.”

Seeking funding are Bishop Ryan Catholic School, $275,000 to upgrade two gymnasiums; Minot Commission on Aging, $400,000 to improve the Parker Senior Center; Minot Curling Club, $275,000 to replace an ice rink floor and cooling pipes; and Minot Family YMCA, $193,585 to build a community outdoor fitness park.

Minot Park District is asking for $800,000 to build three fields for youth girls fast-pitch softball, $500,000 for improvements and expansion at Hammond Park and $3 million to construct a third sheet of ice at Maysa Arena.

The park district, as a political subdivision, doesn’t need to meet the “enterprise” standard but can receive funding through a joint powers agreement with the city.

North Dakota’s constitution prohibits a city from donating to private entities. However, an Attorney General’s ruling frees cities to give money to organizations for purposes described as enterprises of the city. For instance, if a city wants to engage in improving people’s fitness or promoting tourism, it can contract with a health club or museum group to conduct related activities.

City attorney John Van Grinsven said granting money should not be about being a good neighbor but about contracting for a project. That raised a question about whether installing bleachers or remodeling a building are eligible.

The committee scheduled a meeting for next Tuesday at noon in City Hall to take more input from organizations about why they feel their projects qualify as enterprises. The committee also delayed any potential grants to the park district.

Bob Miller, committee member, said he is uncomfortable micro-managing affairs of another governmental entity by determining which projects of the park district to fund. He moved to grant the park district $1.9 million to be used as the park board wishes in pursuing its three funding requests. He supported dividing any remaining funds among the requesting organizations. His motion died for lack of a second.

The city expects to have about $2.9 million in sales-tax collections through this year to include in its 2014 budget for community facilities. Grant awards approved by the city council will be budgeted for distribution in 2014 through reimbursement for vouchered expenses.

Separate from the $2.9 million is a second $1 million grant to Minot State University for Herb Parker Stadium improvements. The council approved $4 million for MSU over four years, with the first installment this year. MSU did not need to make a formal application for next year, but the grant will be subject to a public hearing, along with the new requests.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Bryan Kramer, advancement director at Bishop Ryan, described the free public uses associated with the school’s gymnasiums. The $350,000 gymnasium improvements are part of larger school project costing up to $700,000.

Mark Hildahl, secretary-treasurer for the curling club, spoke of the impact of the club’s facility and its regional events on its 150 members and the local economy. The floor, installed in 1961, has gone through two city floods and its age is showing, he said. Because of floor heaving, the club is able to use only four of its six lanes, limiting its ability to host leagues and larger tournaments.

The curling building is leased from the North Dakota State Fair, and Hildahl said the fair board has indicated it might help with costs if the city chips in. The curling club owns the floor and ice equipment.

The YMCA is building a public park with fitness equipment, picnic shelters and walking path that connects with the city’s trail system. The park would include improvements to an existing playground. Roger Mazurek, YMCA director, said plans are to break ground this summer. Excluding the land purchase, development costs are estimated at $272,000.

The girls fast-pitch softball complex would be built west of the Hoeven ballpark, off the U.S. Highway 83 Bypass.

“It’s a relatively new sport in Minot,” said Mike Lucy, representing softball interests. “There’s a lot of interest in it, and it’s growing every year.”

Committee chairman Dave Lehner questioned whether softball players could use existing, smaller baseball diamonds. Lucy said they have used the South Hill Complex, but it has not been ideal, nor has it been possible to get baseball groups to dedicate any of their smaller fields to softball. He said baseball needs the fields that it has.

As for Hammond Park, the park district plans to move ahead with upgrades to the park and its tennis facilities regardless of whether a community facilities grant is available, said park director Ron Merritt.

“Over the years, we have been putting Band-Aids on it,” he said. “It’s time to look at renovating that complex completely.”

A community facilities grant would reduce the special assessments to be levied to help fund the project, he said.

The Maysa Arena needs a third sheet of ice to accommodate a growing demand for ice time, said Jarrod Olson, representing a group promoting arena expansion. He compared Minot with its two Maysa rinks and one part-time All Seasons Arena rink to Grand Forks, which has six sheets of ice and plans to build two more. Bismarck has three full-time facilities and looks to add two more, he said.

The total expansion cost at Maysa is $6.5 million and includes a walking path and seating. Without community facilities funding, the project could be scaled back to just a sheet of ice, Olson said.

The $3 million request for Maysa exceeds total funds available for distribution next year. When questioned, Olson said his group would accept a pay-out over three years.

Representatives of the Commission on Aging did not appear at Tuesday’s meeting.