City council members concluded that physical fitness and elderly services are worthwhile city enterprises when they voted to spend more than $4.4 million on community facilities Monday.
Four private groups and two government-related entities will share in the sales-tax money, which comes from a Community Facilities Fund approved by voters in June 2011.
City Attorney John Van Grinsven advised council members against giving money to organizations just because they do good in the community. The North Dakota Constitution prohibits local governments from giving public funds to private groups. However, an Attorney General's opinion states that local governments can set up enterprises and grant money to private groups to carry out the enterprises.
Much of the meeting was tied up in deciding what constitutes an enterprise.
Minot already has an enterprise to promote arts, culture and the downtown. The council established the enterprise to be able to grant money to Artspace to construct a live/work building for artists.
"This is something that should be used sparingly and on a limited basis," Van Grinsven said. "What are we getting for the donation? Is it sufficient benefit that's coming back to the city?"
"Can we just say it's an enterprise and that makes it so?" council member Scott Knudsvig asked. "Or do we have to have facts and a basis to say that it's an enterprise?"
"You hit the nail on the head," Van Grinsven responded. "We look at the requests and come up with an enterprise to meet it. It's kind of like the tail wagging the dog."
Mayor Curt Zimbelman also voiced caution to the council.
"Really, you are walking a very fine line here, and you could be called to show that, that is truly an enterprise," he said.
Council member Blake Krabseth argued that the requests benefit residents by improving quality of life. Council member Bob Miller said the council is obligated by the 2011 vote.
"We are not giving any money. We are refunding to the people," Miller said. "I really feel this is something that has come to us from the people and we are bound by their wishes, and we really ought to act favorably on each and every one of these."
Van Grinsven stressed that the council still needs to follow the constitution and the Attorney General's opinion regarding enterprises.
"It's hard for me to grasp that putting bleachers in is an enterprise," Van Grinsven said, referring to a $275,000 request from Bishop Ryan Catholic School for upgrading gymnasiums. He said an enterprise may be possible if the donation is tied to the public purpose of fitness or tourism and the facilities are open and free to the public.
Bishop Ryan representatives told the council that the school hosts a number of community activities and cooperates with Minot State University.
"We are unique in that we may be the only private facility that opens its doors to this multitude of public uses with no charge at all," said Bryan Kramer, advancement director.
The council approved enterprises and $275,000 grants for each Bishop Ryan and the Minot Curling Club. The curling club sought money for a new rink floor and cooling pipes. Council members Lisa Olson and Knudsvig voted against those grants and against a $193,585 grant to the Minot Family YMCA. The YMCA project to construct a community outdoor fitness park carried 11-2, with YMCA employee Amy Moen abstaining.
Knudsvig cast the lone vote against a $400,000 grant to the Minot Commission on Aging for building improvements at the Parker Center. Rather than mentioning the building, the motion stated that the money should go toward the enterprise of assisting seniors.
Because the city can establish enterprises only through ordinances, which require two readings, the council will vote again at a future meeting on those projects.
The council voted unanimously to enter joint powers agreements with the two government organizations, Minot Park District and Minot State University. Each previously received money from the Community Facilities Fund. MSU will get an additional $1 million toward improvements at Herb Parker Stadium.
The park district, already given grants for flood recovery, was approved for $500,000 for the Hammond Park tennis facility improvements, $1 million for a third sheet of ice at Maysa Arena and up to $800,000 for new girls fast-pitch softball fields. The softball field funding will depend on available tax collections.
The Community Facilities Fund won't be releasing money for any of the latest projects until early in 2014 and only on a reimbursement basis.