STATE OF THE CITY: Grand Forks on the grow
Grand Forks is becoming the destination city he envisioned five years ago, Mayor Mike Brown said in his state of the city address Monday. There are more jobs today, more commerce and more people, he said in a speech laced with examples ranging fr...
Grand Forks is becoming the destination city he envisioned five years ago, Mayor Mike Brown said in his state of the city address Monday.
There are more jobs today, more commerce and more people, he said in a speech laced with examples ranging from a population exceeding 54,000 to new businesses such as Canad Inns' entertainment complex at the Alerus Center.
Construction barely had begun on the city's dike and Greenway system. LM Glasfiber and Cirrus Design, two of the city's star manufacturers, were just getting started.
Now, it appears, the problem is how to maintain that growth. That's a common theme that ties together several proposals the mayor made in his speech.
The city needs to address its labor shortage and dearth of affordable housing, he said. It should build new roads to ensure the future growth of the Industrial Park.
It should address housing for the soon-to-be booming population of senior citizens, he said, proposing a new elder village in the south end. City Hall also needs to work out long-term plans, calling for a new six-year plan.
The mayor also mentioned his continued goal of bringing the property tax rate down to 2 percent of valuations, though that would depend on state funding of K-12 education. The tax rate now is 2.18 percent.
City Hall will broadcast the state of the city address on Channel 2 later this week, though it has not decided on the time. Check the city's newly renovated Web site at www.GrandForksgov.com for scheduling.
Where we are
To illustrate how far Grand Forks has come, Brown asked the audience to envision the city without stores such as Best Buy, Lowe's and Kohl's, without the Greenway trails and parks, without the King's Walk golf course, without 100-foot wind turbine blades rolling out of LM Glasfiber or 3,000 planes rolling out of Cirrus Design.
That's what it was like in 2003, when the mayor made his first state of the city address.
Even a year ago, Grand Forks was a smaller place than it is now, according to the mayor.
In February, the city collected a record $1.9 million in sales tax revenues. The total value of new buildings increased by nearly one-third, to $157 million.
The population is estimated to be 54,000, a 7 percent increase over the last estimate in July 2005. In the past two years, businesses in the Industrial Park added 1,200 new jobs.
Here's a rundown of some proposals the mayor hopes will keep the city growing:
-- Build more affordable housing to make the city more attractive to workers, helping local companies recruit the workforce they need. The mayor said the way to do this is to continue filling out the Promenade neighborhood in the western part of the city. The Housing Authority owns the land, so land prices will not increase as quickly in value. There's room now for 50 to 60 more units.
-- Consider converting the city fleet to biofuels, which presumably means either ethanol or biodiesel.
-- Expedite the conversation on a "long-term living campus." This self-contained neighborhood near the Park District-owned King's Walk Golf Course is the pet project of council member Curt Kreun, who is attempting to rally developers. He said that he envisioned a village with its own pharmacy, convenience store, gas station, bank and mini-theater. It would be aimed at those older than 55.
-- Push for a property tax rate cut to 2 percent of valuation. The city's position when it comes to tax cuts is it will try to keep its budget from increasing faster than inflation or the expansion of the tax base that occurs when the city annexes new properties. The work of actually cutting mill levies, the mayor has said, will depend on how willing state lawmakers are to increase funding for K-12 education.
-- Launch a six-year plan. Planning is something city leaders repeatedly have talked about doing. Brown said he wants residents involved in the process as the city decides what level of service it wants. City Council members are scheduled to discuss the issue at a March 28 work session.
-- Raise greater awareness of underage drinking by encouraging community dialogue.
Tran reports on City Hall. Reach him at (701) 780-1248 or email@example.com or see his blog at www.areavoices.com/gfhcitybeat .