East Grand Forks City Council members formally agreed on a revamped contract for help on a hoped-for slate of parks and recreation projects.
Council members on Tuesday voted 5-2 in favor of a new contract with JLG Architects that would ultimately pay the contractor $66,000 if East Grand Forks voters approve a planned sales tax referendum in November 2022. The new sales tax would pay for all or part of a series of long-awaited renovations to the East Grand Forks Civic Center, the VFW Memorial Arena and baseball fields at Stauss Park. JLG has been helping the city with pre-referendum planning, including putting together community surveys and working on preliminary renovation plans.
The new contract stipulates that the city will pay $14,000 of that $66,000 up front. The old contract, to which City Council members agreed in December 2019, was set to pay the contractor a total of $60,000, but the COVID-19 pandemic and other political forces pushed back the sales tax vote by two years. JLG asked for a newer, slightly more lucrative contract to reflect the longer timeline for its work.
Voting against the new deal were council members Dale Helms and Clarence Vetter. Helms has routinely been skeptical of city spending hikes in general and spending on the parks and recs projects in particular, and on Tuesday he said he didn’t have enough information about the project to vote in favor of the new contract.
“How many more people are we going to bring onto this project before we get anywhere with it?” Helms asked rhetorically. But the architecture firm isn’t new to the project: council members agreed in June 2019 to pay JLG $10,000 to study the city’s options for improving the Civic Center and VFW Arenas, and, in November 2019, consultants there produced a $24 million plan to add a second sheet of ice to the center and turn the arena into an all-season fieldhouse. That plan has since been pared down considerably.
Helms on Tuesday also wondered how much of the money the city hopes to raise from private donors would ultimately go to the consultant.
Vetter said the money the city is set to pay out via a recently won grant to fix up part of the arenas is considerably less than JLG initially estimated.
“I’m just questioning what kind of information we’re really getting from them,” he said.
In related news, council members voted to request funding for a future bridge between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks via federal “community project funding,” which is another phrase for the earmarks that allowed members of Congress to point money at specific infrastructure projects in their home districts.
Congress banned earmarks about 10 years ago amid a host of wasteful and sometimes corrupt spending plans – “bridges to nowhere,” for instance – but Democrat and Republican leaders in Washington reversed the ban in March.
The council’s resolution is nonetheless symbolic.