City gives $10,000 to bridge coalition

The Stillwater City Council voted Tuesday night to give $10,000 the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing from the city’s general fund budget.

Tuesday’s decision comes after the council agreed earlier this year to give $80,000 in city tax increment financing money to the coalition.

There were two problems with the $80,000 donation, according to a State Auditor’s Office investigation into the donation. The use of TIF funds was not permitted under state law and the city did not have a written lobbying contract with the Coalition, according to City Attorney David Magnuson.

There is a state law allowing the use of general funds for lobbying efforts to promote, improve or develop the economic resources of the community but local governments can only give up to $50,000 a year for these efforts.

Magnuson has since written up a contract ensuring with any future economic participation between the coalition and the council, the lobbyist will properly licensed and be paid.

Washington County recently gave $15,000 from their general fund and St. Croix County gave $10,000 to the bridge coalition.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Micky Cook expressed disbelief the coalition needed more money.

“In February 2012, when everything had this great momentum, we ended up not paying for lobbyist services and you were able to get the bridge pushed through and approved,” she said. “And now tonight you are going to try to get money for the bridge coalition despite the fact that the Senate, the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States all signed off on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to approve it? Why in God’s name are we spending another dime on this?”

Cook added that the money could be spent elsewhere, particularly to hire paid on-call firefighters to staff the new fire station.

Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush agreed.

“Last spring there was a sense of urgency, we had the rubber on the road and I don’t see that right now,” he said.

Mayor Ken Harycki, coalition co-chairman, said the coalition needed additional funds because there is still a chance the project could be stopped by a “frivolous lawsuit or activist judge” and cited a situation where they’ve been within 30 days of letting and the project got blocked.

He added that MnDOT has advised the coalition that it’s beneficial for them to stand by and be ready.

“We’re moving into the second phase dedicated to economic development —dealing with the disruptions to businesses that will happen when intersections get torn up,” Harycki said. “There’s a lot to be done still.”

Another concern Roush raised was double taxation on residents.

“The county has already given money to the coalition, meaning the residents of Stillwater have already paid their fair share,” he said. “That’s double taxation.”

“Frankly, the city of Stillwater hasn’t given one penny.” Harycki said.

“We certainly tried.” Roush replied.

Ward 3 Councilman Micheal Polehna agreed that the money should be given to the coalition.

“A lot of people have put in a lot of money and Stillwater is going to benefit from this the most,” he said. “We’re going to be the big winner here and we haven’t contributed anything.”

Councilman Doug Menikheim’s motion to give $10,000 was amended to make this donation the city’s last to the coalition.

The motion passed 3-to-2 with Cook and Roush dissenting.