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City weighs needs vs. wants every day

A pair of recent letters to the editor in The Minot Daily News focused on a topic that municipal governments deal with on a daily basis: Needs vs. wants.

In the first letter from two weeks ago, it was noted that in 2016, Minot’s budget was roughly $125.7 million, while the budget for 2020 was approximately $274 million. While those numbers are accurate, the letter disregarded critical information that explains why the 2020 budget is $274 million.

Compared to the 2019 budget, the 2020 budget increased by roughly $95 million. But on closer inspection, given the fact that the City’s mill levy actually decreased slightly for 2020, it’s clear that the increase in spending is on major projects that have been planned for and accounted for in the budget:

$25.9 million for flood control construction

$31.8 million for flood control projects outside City limits

$9.3 million for highway projects

$8.7 million for capital purchases

$11.7 million for water projects

Those five categories alone make up $87.4 million of the increase for 2020. Of the $95 million in new spending, $55 million will come from federal and state funding sources. Of the remaining $40 million, the City has been allocating funds for specific projects for years, including flood control and the Northwest Area Water Supply project. Now, those funds must be included in the budget in order to be utilized this year, so in reality, we’re simply spending money for its intended purposes.

Is flood control, both inside the City of Minot and throughout the rest of the basin a need or a want? I think that’s an easy answer. The City of Minot remains committed to doing whatever it can to help fund flood protection throughout the Souris River basin. Currently, work is under way on Phases 1-3, with Phase 4 (Maple Diversion) waiting for congressional approval and potential funding. Design work for Phase 5’s original alignment is complete, but due to complications with the ability to cross Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s main line, a revised alignment is under consideration, and the City is gathering public input. With the current combination of local, state, and federal funding, we’re utilizing the resources available to us while continuing to advocate for funding for future phases.

Are water projects, including NAWS, a need or a want? Again, I don’t think that’s a difficult question to answer. Minot committed long ago to the completion of NAWS, not only for the benefit of our community, but for the benefit of smaller cities throughout this region. By utilizing the money we’ve saved for years, we can avoid further bonding for NAWS. Wouldn’t you choose to spend the money you’ve saved for years rather than take out a loan and pay interest?

Is spending $9.3 million for highway projects in 2020 a need or a want, considering nearly the entire amount is for the reconstruction of 31st Avenue Southwest between Broadway and 13th Street SE? Is $8.7 million for capital purchases a need or a want, given that nearly all of that amount is for a potential City Hall relocation and beginning construction of Fire Station 5 in northwest Minot? Again, I think those are easy answers.

The first letter and a more recent letter both referenced the potential of moving City Hall to a new downtown location, questioning the City’s need for a building with three times as much space as the current location.

Operationally, there are logical reasons for seeking a new building. The current City Hall, built in 1956, was constructed for a Minot that is much different than today. Everything about municipal government has changed since 1956, and because of that natural growth and progression, there are more employees in the finance department, utility billing, human resources, the Police Department, and the City attorney’s office. Even without accounting for future growth, we’ve run out of room at City Hall.

Because of a lack of space, many City employees are not currently located in City Hall where they should be. Information technology employees are housed in offices in the Minot Municipal Auditorium, as is the staff of our Public Information Office. Employees in the National Disaster Resilience office are located at Public Works. There is no dedicated space for the mayor or City Council in the current City Hall should we need to have private meetings with members of the public.

The most recent letter questioned what would happen to buildings where City staff members are currently located should some employees move to a relocated City Hall, specifically Municipal Court. If Municipal Court were moved to a relocated City Hall, the Minot Park District would surely make good use of the space Municipal Court is currently occupying in the Minot Municipal Auditorium. I’m confident the Park District would also find good uses for the space the IT and PIO departments currently occupy in the Auditorium.

To be clear, City employees will not be vacating entire buildings if City Hall is relocated.

And let’s not forget that one of the main reasons we included a new City Hall in our NDR plan was to move Central Dispatch out of the Police Department and into a location that was secure from potential flooding. The Police Department would then utilize that vacated space for its growing technology and equipment needs.

If we were only moving the departments currently at City Hall to a new location, I agree that there would be less need for additional space. But that’s not the plan at all. A new, larger City Hall will be a one-stop location for members of the public, where they can easily pay a bill, ask a question of the Public Information Office, interact with multiple departments, or meet with a member of the City Council.

Providing members of the public with a central location with better access to their municipal government and their elected leaders, while at the same time creating operational efficiencies and moving the critical Central Dispatch out of harm’s way, sure seems like much more than a want.

Sincerely, City Hall

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