Brown: Grand Forks is engaging, innovating
Last year in Grand Forks, some people from the food cooperative started a community garden and some others organized an adventure race on the city's Greenway. This year, some are starting a new inline-skate marathon and a couple of students told ...
Last year in Grand Forks, some people from the food cooperative started a community garden and some others organized an adventure race on the city's Greenway. This year, some are starting a new inline-skate marathon and a couple of students told the mayor what they'd do if they ran the city for a day.
Mayor Mike Brown spoke about all of them in between talk of a new water treatment plant and job growth as part of his ninth State of the City address Wednesday at the Alerus Center
At the top of his speech were the words "engage, innovate, build," and he put special emphasis on how ordinary citizens can and should engage in the life of their city, like those mentioned above.
For his part, the mayor said, he promised to find ways to measure the city's progress on several fronts, ranging from the city being friendlier to youth to helping make the cost of living more affordable to improving the economy.
As usual, the speech was occasion for Brown to touch on various accomplishments and recognizing people who helped in those accomplishments even if they're not with City Hall. Here are a few things Brown mentioned:
- Growth: The economy is doing well, especially when you compare the 3 percent unemployment rate here with the national average of 9 percent. And there are more jobs, too. Job Service North Dakota says the number of people employed now is 1.3 percent more than last year, meaning there are 700 more jobs.
The population reached an estimated 56,000, about 13 percent more than at the start of the decade. Brown had aimed for 58,000 back in 2004.
Employers such as J.R. Simplot, Ideal Aerosmith, American Defense and Countrywide Sanitation are investing in plants in the city -- $33 million last year -- and hiring more. UND's Center for Innovation Foundation is working on a new tech park north of the Alerus Center.
Downtown is growing. The vacant Civic Auditorium is now the construction site of a $4.5 million apartment building. Another apartment building is expected across the street.
- Taxes and budgets: Six years ago, city property taxes were 2.2 percent of total property values and the city aimed to bring them down to 2 percent. They're now at 1.7 percent.
The city is working to make staff more efficient, which could save the city up to 15 percent in some city functions. It's also working to improve energy efficiency in its own buildings, which could save $200,000 a year.
- Quality of life: Brown touted the city's commitment to the arts, ranging from the Mayor's Choice program, which uses City Hall as an exhibit space for new artists, to its support for an artist in residence program at UND.
The city has worked to quiet railroad whistles at various crossings throughout the city and Brown said he expects the crossings downtown, near UND and near the Congressional neighborhoods will all benefit by summer.
The city has also synchronized traffic signals so drivers hit more green lights, saving money because they would be forced to stop less often.
An earlier program by the mayor to encourage home repairs and general neighborhood improvements in the Near North Neighborhood has proven successful enough to Brown that he said he's planning to expand it to the near south neighborhoods south of downtown.
- Infrastructure: Brown talked about work to extend South 48th Street, which would help expand the Industrial Park, and work on the new airport terminal, which would accommodate the growth in boardings. Last year, the airport saw 118,000 boardings, a 21 percent increase from the year before.
Brown also praised work to connect the sewage systems of Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, which would increase efficiency for both sides.
- Recognizing another notable city resident who inspired the city, Brown said he promised Ali Borgen, who passed away earlier this year from cancer at the age of 15, that he would make Sept. 5 "Smile Wide Every Day" in perpetuity.
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