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County inks contract with Go Minnesota

By Staff | Aug 24, 2009

Doug Uhrhammer

Faribault County will continue its financial support of a private non-profit group working for economic development in the county.

However, it was not a unanimous consensus of the Economic Development Authority board.

On a 6-1 vote, the EDA renewed its contract with Go Minnesota and agreed to resume monthly payments of $4,166 for the rest of the year.

“I didn’t think it was a fiscally responsible decision for the taxpayers of Faribault County. The contract guarantees zero hours of service and no accountability to the taxpayers,” says board member Rob Nelson.

The county EDA signed a contract at the beginning of the year to pay the development corporation $50,000 to provide services.

The agreement ended in April with the sudden death of Go Minnesota’s executive director and the county stopped paying the monthly fee.

County commissioner John Roper, who also is a member of the EDA board, says little change was made to the original contract.

He says initially the county agreed to fund Go Minnesota on condition of having a director.

Now that the group has hired someone, Roper says, the EDA should live up to its commitment.

“Your word has to be worth something. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” he says.

Nelson says language in the contract is vague. He says it does not specify what services the county will receive, benchmarks that must be met or standards used to evaluate performance.

Nelson says approval of the contract was not “a fair and open process” because no bids or proposals were accepted from others involved with private economic development.The new contract will be retroactive to Aug. 1 and will expire on Dec. 31.

It’s unsure if the county will continue funding for Go Minnesota next year.

A sagging economy has county officials looking at areas where budget cuts can be made.

“County employees should know while commissioners are budgeting money to pay Go Minnesota, they are sitting at home on furlough,” says Nelson.

In budget workshops recently held, $25,000 has been earmarked for Go Minnesota.

Nelson says using tax dollars will continue to be a controversial issue.

Some county officials have balked at the idea of turning over money with “no strings attached.”

Nelson says the contract was eventually approved after six previous attempts failed or were tabled.

“I think they wore us out. The board just said, ‘Let’s just give them the money so we can move on to other business,'” Nelson adds.

Roper thinks Go Minnesota and the county’s economic director can work together and complement their efforts for economic development.

He says the organization consists of aggressive business people who are successful in their respective fields.

“We need to bring businesses here and they know how to do that,” he says. “The whole county benefits when we expand our tax base.”

County EDA director Zoa Heckman doesn’t see any duplication of duties.

Heckman says her office will focus on administering various housing and business grant/loan programs and day to day activities, while Go Minnesota will work on attracting new businesses.

“I don’t think that three people working on housing and economic development is too many,” she says. “I would hope we all can go forward with an attitude of cooperating and working together.”