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NR remains a member of St. Croix County EDC

For years, the New Richmond City Council has debated whether to retain its membership with the St. Croix County Economic Development Corp.

So when the city received a bill for its dues for the second half of 2011 recently, it gave elected officials another chance to evaluate the EDC and its apparent effectiveness.

At the council's July 27 special meeting, Mayor Fred Horne initially suggested that the community not pay the full second-half bill, which totaled $5,001. (The city's annual dues are $10,0002.) Horne originally supported the idea of just paying $2,500, but he eventually changed his mind.

New Richmond Area Economic Development Corp. President Paul Mayer warned that not maintaining the city's full membership might be short-sighted.

Wisconsin recently shut down its Department of Commerce, which dealt with economic development functions across the state, and in its place formed a private, non-profit Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Mayer said the state's goal is to provide more money for economic development activities, and to also reduce the bureaucracy that had infiltrated the Department of Commerce over the years.

At a recent economic development gathering, Mayer said, the new Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. President Paul Jadin spoke. He told those in attendance that his office would be working closely with county-wide EDC organizations and not EDCs in individual municipalities.

Mayer said the structure is seen as a way to streamline how the state organization will work with economic development groups across Wisconsin.

If New Richmond were to drop its full membership with the St. Croix County EDC, Mayer said, the community might be isolated and unable to work with the state EDC.

"That could cut us off from the state," Mayer said. "So I think it's very important for the City of New Richmond to maintain its relationship with St. Croix County."

"So we have to pay to play?" council member Roberta Dale-Wozniak asked.

"If you want a seat at the table," Mayer said.

Mayer said he understands the continuing frustration some council members have with the St. Croix EDC, noting that communication issues have been ongoing for years.

Others commented that the county EDC provides few if any leads for new or moving businesses, which is one measure some council members use to determine the effectiveness of the organization.

Dale-Wozniak said she's frustrated that the city's concerns are brought up time and again but nothing gets resolved.

"We just keep paying them and they don't change," she said.

In St. Croix County EDC's defense, Mayer said, the board for that organization has a different understanding of the role its director, Bill Rubin, plays in economic development.

"Bill's doing what his board has blessed him to do," Mayer said.

Rubin spends a good deal of time advocating for a new bridge over the St. Croix River, Mayer explained, and if the bridge is eventually built it will have a positive economic development impact on the community.

He said "leads" are not the only measure of a successful economic development effort.

Alderman Kirk Van Blaircom said he understands the ongoing concerns of some on the council, but he said it's better to stay a member of the St. Croix County EDC and continue to advocate for change as a voting member. Change will not come with continued battling, he said.

"I think this organization does good things," Van Blaircom said. "We need to get away from the negativity. We need to motivate them (the St. Croix County EDC) to change, but we're not doing it the correct way. I think we can work it out."

The council voted 4-1 to retain full membership with the St. Croix County EDC. Dale-Wozniak cast the lone "no" vote.

In other business:

-- The council voted to reconsider a decision it had made at a previous meeting. The council had authorized Streets Superintendent Dan Koski to hire a replacement employee, filling an opening left when Mike Geraghty was killed in a hunting accident. Horne said some had suggested that the street department work cooperatively with the parks and recreation department to complete tasks, instead of hiring another employee.

Koski said city employees didn't think much of the idea, noting that his department is already one person smaller than when he started working in New Richmond four years ago.

Last year's snowy winter forced his department to spend a lot of money on overtime (900 extra hours), Koski noted, and it puts a strain on the employees when plowing for hours on end.

"The guys get pretty wore out," Koski said. "We've got the safety issue of the fatigue of our drivers."

Another issue worth considering, Koski said, is that the street department employees are unionized and the parks department employees are not. That could create some issues for the city, he explained.

In the end, council members voted unanimously to allow the street department to fill the open position.

Alderman Ron Volkert said he's traveled throughout the county and knows that New Richmond plows its streets more efficiently than anyone else.

"I'm grateful I live in New Richmond," he said.

Volkert said he'd hate to jeopardize that reputation by scaling back on the number of employees.

-- The council authorized the parks department to continue to work with a traveling circus that hopes to come to New Richmond Aug. 24. The circus needs about two acres on city property to set up a tent and offer their show. The circus would then agree to pay the city 20 percent of gate receipts.

-- The council agreed to meet the third Monday of each month for working sessions, following the pattern of recent strategic planning sessions that council has conducted.member of St. Croix County EDC