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Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown: 'Time to lead locally'

Grand Forks is stronger than ever, the city's mayor said Wednesday, but he wants the community to take the lead in making it even better.

"We have good partners at the state and federal levels, and we're grateful for them, but this is the time to lead locally," Mayor Mike Brown said in his State of the City address at the Alerus Center. "This is when the public and private sectors, academia, nonprofits, faith-based (entities) and individuals are all synchronized to problem-solve, to grow opportunity and to get things done."

The mayor spent most of his time recapping what he saw as last year's accomplishments in Grand Forks, including the passage of a half-cent sales tax increase to fund infrastructure projects, reaching out to the public through online surveys and pop-up city halls and a technology initiative that is meant to make the city's website more user-friendly for residents.

He also said the city is working with local agencies and partners to address increased abuse of opioids.

"Let's be clear: Addiction is a chronic disease," he said. "In all we do, we must eliminate the stigma."

Brown touted moves by the city to invest in local businesses, mentioning projects proposed by the Red River BioRefinery, the North Dakota Mill, LM Wind Power and Midco. He also acknowledged partnerships with Grand Forks Air Force Base, UND, Altru Health System and multiple city entities.

"You see, the important thing is investing in ourselves, in what differentiates Grand Forks and what emphasizes our strengths," he said.

The mayor spoke briefly on supporting the Public Arts Commission, Gov. Doug Burgum's Main Street Initiative and efforts to reduce the city's child poverty rate by 3.5 percent over the next five years. A 2012 estimate from the U.S. Census said Grand Forks had an overall poverty rate of 16.5 percent, a 2 percent jump from 2015. That made it the poorest metropolitan area in North Dakota.

The city is at a tipping point, Brown told the Herald, adding more ideas are coming forward from residents.

"We have so much going for us," he said.

Brown also discussed in his speech the importance of having a library as a "hub of curiosity and exploration," using a quote from industrialist Andrew Carnegie to say a library "outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people."

"Surely that was what Joe Neel Jr. could have been thinking when he humbly but inspiringly gave a $675,000 gift" to the Grand Forks Public Library.

Library and city officials have debated for several years whether to build a new library or refurbish the structure at 2110 Library Circle. Others have formed groups to support a midtown or downtown location.

The discussion was on hold in recent months, as city leaders and business owners spent much of last year preparing for the sales tax vote in November.

Brown asked residents not to focus on a location but rather how the library could inspire the next generation. He told the Herald a future library must be more than books, adding it must give residents access to technology, ideas and opportunity.

"How do we make that available so that future generations can succeed?" he said.

When asked whether he was for a new library, he said, "We'll see where the discussion goes."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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