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Regional clerks meeting focuses on economic development

New York Mills hosted the MCFOA Region 1 meeting on Friday Feb. 20. (MCFOA stands for Municipal Clerks & Finance Officers Association). The event begin with a visit to the Whistle Stop Bed & Breakfast from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. for coffee, tea, scones, and a tour of the facility. The group, which included NY Mills City Clerk Darla Berry, left the Whistle Stop and returned to the NY Mills City Hall. The meeting then reconvened in the Party Room. Mayor Larry Hodgson did a brief welcome speech before the meeting moved into the morning session, which included a panel of speakers to discuss economic development and updates on state and federal economy/stimulus package.

Speakers included Ed Larson, NYM Economic Development Consultant (local perspective); Senator Dan Skogen (State of Minnesota perspective); and Ms. Toni Merdan, Senior Economic Developer for U.S. Representative Collin Peterson. Berry commented that this session was very interesting.

Ed Larson spoke first about the tough economic times, and that cities could focus their efforts on assisting current businesses that are experiencing financial difficulties. He mentioned the program available through DEED to assist small business owners with financial statements, projections, and marketing efforts. He noted this as being available free from this state agency. Larson mentioned utilizing this service to assist a local struggling business. He also mentioned the tax incentive available through JOBZ as well as tax increment financing. His efforts are to seek out local business owners and see if there are ways that New York Mills and EDA can help them out. Also, he follows up on any new business opportunities that he hears of in the community.

Dan Skogen talked about the state's budget problems. Skogen noted the ways in which the state was looking into saving money. Cuts to LGA were discussed. Various attendees shared some of their own views on the cuts to LGA, and state mandates on budget cuts such as wage freezes. It was noted that the state's actions may be affecting cities with high debt levels more than cities with little or no debt as the cuts are based on both levies and LGA. Cities with high debt levies must then cut even more from operations as they cannot cut/reduce scheduled bond debt servicing. It was also noted that cities are in the best position themselves to determine how to trim budgets, and that mandatory wage freezes were not needed or desirable, especially in retaining good staff and asking more of current staff given other budget cuts and/or layoffs.

Toni Merdan had a Powerpoint presentation where she summarized many provisions of the Federal economic stimulus bill and other federal matters. She noted that she in no way could mention everything contained in the bill as it was so enormous. She had merely included some of the highlights that they noted upon a preliminary review. Topics included in her handouts included the 2008 Farm Bill, Rural Development programs, including rural infrastructure funding for water and wastewater projects, telecommunications, agricultural based economic development, and value added producers grants; Title IX: Energy, noting various subcategories including biorefinery assistance and repowering assistance programs, rural energy for America program, local foods, farmers market promotion program, support for organic farmers, and specialty crops programs. She next covered items included in the Federal Stimulus Package relating to the general provisions for infrastructure investments, USDA provisions for rural housing, rural business service, rural community facilities, rural water and wastewater, rural utility programs, trade adjustment assistance for communities, Dept of Justice for COPS hiring, FEMA grants/Dept of Homeland Security, and Economic Development Administration provisions. If you want this handout, I could scan/e-mail it to you. So much information, so hard to summarize.

At noon, the group had lunch at the Eagles Café. Two afternoon sessions at City Hall followed lunch. First was Faith Zwemke with the State of Minnesota to give us an overview/update on the state's Pay Equity program/mandates. Ms. Zwemke spoke about one hour. The meeting wrapped up with Eric Herrmann, who is with Protective Financial Solutions, LLC. He talked about a provision of the federal economic stimulus bill that is affecting COBRA for employees and former employees.

In addition to Berry, there were 16 attendees from about 12 other cities, as far away as Bemidji, Audubon, and Breckenridge, and as nearby as Henning and Sebeka.

Berry said all the speakers were very enjoyable and informative, and several clerks from other communities told her they felt it was an excellent meeting.

(Information provided by New York Mills City Clerk Darla Berry.)