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Officials debate how to fund development

By Staff | Jul 24, 2011

Austin Bleess

Winnebago City Administrator Austin Bleess drew a large crowd Tuesday during his proposal to change the way Faribault County funds economic development.

Those contributing to the conversation at the commissioners meeting included: City Administrator Kathy Bailey and Mayor Rob Hammond of Blue Earth, Wells City Administrator Jeremy Germann and Faribault County Development Corporation officials Travis Keister and Linsey Warmka.

“I am here along with fellow administrators to offer a solution,” Bleess says. “We are offering you a way to cut overhead and offer more services to businesses in Faribault County. A way to do more with less.”

Bleess proposes investing $10,000 from the county’s economic development budget into the EDA funds of Blue Earth, Wells and Winnebago totaling $30,000.

“This money will go straight into projects in these cities,” Bleess says. “At the end of the budget cycle we will report what projects the dollars went towards.”

Bleess says money will be invested in commercial rehabilitation, gap financing and bringing new jobs into the community.

Currently, the county pays the Faribault County Development Corporation (FCDC) $50,000 a year for development services.

“As you can see, the three city administrators from the county are here and they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe this is a good way to move forward,” Bleess says.

According to Bleess, the current model of paying FCDC for economic development is not working. “What we are offering is quite simple,” Bleess says. “It’s cost savings along with crystal clear transparency.”

Regarding working with smaller communities such as Kiester, Delavan and Easton, Bleess proposes following a plan similar to shared library services already in effect.

“What we’re willing to do is divide the county along geographical lines and work with the townships and smaller cities on a variety of projects,” Bleess says.

In the meeting, Bleess says he spoke with FCDC on Friday and they proposed working with Winnebago for a fee of $25,000.

“We don’t think we should pay $25,000 for services we can already provide,” Bleess says.

Travis Keister president of FCDC says he took Bleess’ proposed plan as “somewhat of an insult.”

“Austin today misrepresented the contract to you all,” Keister says. “The last paragraph in the proposal to Winnebago said everything in this agreement is negotiable. Let’s sit down and talk about it. The price tag, the services, the things we can offer are negotiable and yet he is failing to tell you this because he is adamant against working with us.”

Keister continues to say during public comment that the program proposed by Bleess is nothing new.

“This system has failed this county for 100 years,” Keister says. “Are you all aware we have been designated as a distressed county by the state of Minnesota?”

Keister would like everyone to work together under the FCDC organization.

“They are presenting a cheaper plan and that’s fine, but you get what you pay for.” Keister says “If you don’t want to pay the price tag to do something the right way, don’t do it.”

“I don’t care who is running economic development in Faribault County, we don’t have a unified team,” Commissioner Tom Warmka says. “I applaud you (Bleess) for thinking outside of the box, but what does the board have to do to woo you into an organization that already has a reputation going so the county can back out of economic development funding.”

Warmka continues to say that following Bleess’ plan would fracture local redevelopment.

Blue Earth City Administrator Kathy Bailey says that at this point, Blue Earth supports FCDC and has not made any decisions to move out of that model.

To conclude the discussion, Warmka thanked all parties for presenting ideas, but stressed unity to make progress.