Robin L. David: Path forward means we're all at the table
COVID-19 has changed Grand Forks forever. There is now no doubt that the next crop of city leaders will face unprecedented challenges in rebuilding the local economies, institutions and relationships damaged by this pandemic. In such times we need not only kindness and hope, but honesty.
Already evident, for example, is the fact that people in Grand Forks care for one another. The generosity, professionalism and poise we’ve witnessed from our neighbors, cafeteria workers, delivery drivers, grocers, health providers, and teachers has been outstanding.
This should give us all hope.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll also acknowledge that not all of us will emerge from this crisis equally.
Remember that Grand Forks claims the highest poverty rate of any metro region in North Dakota: nearly 20%. We also have the lowest median income of the four largest cities in North Dakota and a smaller labor force than we had in 1996.
These figures were all before COVID-19 ravaged the global economy, which could be a crushing blow to many of us -- renters, homeowners, retailers -- who were already barely hanging on. This crisis has shown how close many of us are to the edge, not to mention the fragility of our “just-in-time” supply chains and social safety nets. As such, helping the community recover not just physically but economically and socially should be every leader’s priority this year and next.
This is why the platform I proposed back in February, which includes crowd-sourcing our city’s poverty challenges more urgently and establishing both a retail/small business task force and community visioning process, is more important than ever.
Although there’s no single right answer to complex issues like poverty or tax policy, especially in times of crisis, there are processes we all should plan to engage in together.
The first of these will be determining not only what we did well during this emergency, but what we can do better next time.
The second will be to craft a strategic plan of action that corrects systemic problems, includes all groups and stakeholders and does the most good for the most people -- and helps make the next crisis less disruptive.
Beyond sheltering in place, immediate things we can do include completing our census forms to ensure Grand Forks gets as much funding this decade as possible, and ensuring deferments or forbearance for business and personal renters challenged by COVID-19. We must also continue to engage the state Legislature and congressional delegation to discuss how state and federal funds, potentially including the Legacy Fund, can further help cities with things like aid to small businesses and working families.
Looking ahead, the next mayor should allow the people to help set economic priorities by implementing practices such as participatory budgeting and ensuring residents, businesses, unions, and nonprofits are at the table to help craft and implement policy solutions for our economy together.
Through this all, we must ensure our city’s bond rating remains strong. Approaches like simply cutting property taxes could threaten services and safety for residents, as well as our bond rating -- a critical concern as sales tax revenue declines. Instead, let’s work toward more nuanced approaches to provide support to our residents.
This is the path forward: engaging the greatest number of residents to make smart, evidence-based, collective decisions that help grow the city across sectors. It will take time. But I am firmly convinced of the potential of this community, especially when we work together.
Let us take the time to grieve and remember our losses. And let’s also think about what kind of Grand Forks we want to reimagine together, when the time comes.
Thank you for all you are doing to care for yourselves and each other.
Robin David is the city’s welcoming community coordinator and a candidate for mayor.