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Retreat focuses on Minot’s direction

Council considers hindrances to city’s development

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Public Library Director Zhaina Moya, right, shares thoughts during a breakout session on city aspirations during the Minot City Council retreat on Tuesday. At left, front to back, are council member Rob Fuller, City Manager Harold Stewart and City Assessor Ryan Kamrowski.

Circumstances ranging from lack of trades workers to developer dissatisfaction in working with the city were cited as impediments to Minot’s economic growth at a retreat session of the Minot City Council Tuesday.

The retreat, which continues through this morning, brought council members and department heads together with a facilitator to discuss expectations, trends, the city’s aspirations and strategic framework as well as economic development.

Council member Rob Fuller said he has been told by builders that Minot is a hard place to do business.

“Right now, they are saying, ‘We don’t want to come to Minot,'” he said. “We need to pull this back the other way because, right now, we are stagnant with development because people don’t feel it’s easy to work with the City of Minot.”

Fuller said the city should look at its processes and ordinances and find ways to simplify things.

Council member Paul Pitner said the overwhelming reason Minot isn’t seeing development is the lack of a workforce in the trades. Developers cannot find the workers and subcontractors, he said. He suggested Minot Public Schools amplify its vocational education program.

Whether the city’s role is to incentivize construction, provide tax breaks or just get out of the way, it needs to check that box, Pitner said.

Council member Mike Blessum said a barrier exists given the limited number of buildable lots, which have been listed by the city at about 300. Developers list a combination of reasons for holding off on building, including hedging for a more favorable market in the future, he said. However, some developers who call the city difficult to work with are those who don’t want to follow the city’s rules, he said.

Council member Mark Jantzer said he finds developers who struggle most to work with the city are those who aren’t as knowledgeable in the area of property development or choose to skip hiring the professionals needed to ensure their projects go smoothly.

Brian Billingsley, the city’s Community and Economic Development director, said his office intends to propose offering developer training next year. The city needs to train local developers rather than depend on developers from elsewhere, he said.

Council member Scott Samuelson said the city cannot incentivize its way out of an economy in which people face high taxes and can’t afford to buy a home. The council has taken the position in the past that tax incentives for developers will generate more tax revenue in the longer term because it builds the pie, Samuelson said.

“Our pie is getting smaller,” he countered. “Minot, right now, is not growing. It’s going in the opposite direction.

“I’m not saying that we give up, but how we’re doing it is the wrong thing. It’s my belief that you can’t buy our way out of this. The houses that we’re doing now, we give a property-tax exemption on part of that. The only ones that are benefiting from that right now are the developers. The homeowner is not benefitting from that because in three years, they’re going to be paying the property tax, then they can’t afford the house anyway,” he said.

Blessum said the city must be willing to say no to some spending to put itself in a better position to grow.

“We’ve got to get the economy right-sized,” he said.

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