Minot grant decision shortsighted

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Posted 7/03/18 (Tue)

Whines & Roses, By Cecile Wehrman
In the  interest of full disclosure, let me first share that I am the person who has written Crosby’s Magic Fund grant request on behalf of the Crosby Area Chamber for the past several years.
That’s why I am the one who received a letter last week from Minot City Manager Tom Barry, giving the Chamber a heads-up that probably, the chamber is not going to be receiving that grant in the future.
According to Barry, “With the downturn in the economy, our city, like so many others, has had to rationalize our grants and donations and focus on the needs and services for our residents.”
While it was generous of him to think about the budget planning groups like the Crosby Area Chamber will need to do as a result of the probabe loss of those funds, his sign off -- “I wish your city the best” -- rings a little hollow.
Minot is not the only city hurting at this time. As you’ll read elsewhere in this edition, lots of area towns are struggling with some pretty hefty declines in sales tax revenue these days. But as one who has  been aware of the grant program since my days working as Crosby’s economic development director in the mid-1990s, I can tell you that local sales taxes are generating a lot more money now than they were 20-25 years ago. Also, that oil income, or the lack of it, never factored into the program before.
I remember well the rationale for the establishment of these types of grant programs in cities like Minot and Williston ‘back in the ‘day.’
It’s because, back then, the leaders who sat on these sales tax boards recognized just how valuable we “feeder” communities were to the health of their economy. It’s the for the same reason that Crosby’s Spirit Fund enhancement grants are open to projects across all of Divide County -- not just Crosby.
In the past, Minot’s leaders  recognized that people from Tioga or Crosby -- because they have to leave town to obtain some goods not available at home -- have a choice of where they are going to travel for those items. Today, they also have the choice of buying online and not traveling at all.
But if I need to buy a car or a hot tub, I most likely need to make that purchase in a bigger town.
Early on, when towns across the state established their Home Rule Charters and began collecting sales taxes, the worry was that if some of that money didn’t go back to the wider trade area, shoppers might just decide to bypass that town altogether.
It appears now that is no longer a concern.
Minot, after decades of acknowledging the contribution shoppers from small towns made to their economy, has decided -- apparently -- that how its feeder communities fare is no longer as important as keeping that money in Minot.
I grant you, with an award of $2,500 to $3,000 to the Crosby Area Chamber each of the past 20-plus years, the Magic Fund has done a lot to help Crosby. That money has helped fund promotions that help our small town merchants draw in customers and increase their own sales. 
It’s helped Crosby market itself to new residents in the form of money to print city welcome guides that help us increase our population.
But how many more dollars have Crosby residents pumped into Minot’s economy during the past two decades?
Back when the Magic Fund’s Marketing Match program was established, the folks around the table recognized that a strong Crosby -- along with a strong Ray, Grenora and Stanley -- was vital to keeping a  strong economy in Minot.
The decision right now -- when all towns are dealing with the disruption of Internet sales --is particularly puzzling.
On the one hand, local sales tax funds should benefit from the change requiring online merchants to collect local taxes -- on the other hand, now that our residents know none of the sales tax dollars they spend in Minot are going to come back to their home community, why shop there at all?