County board turns down Vision 2020

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bennett, Gabrielson, Tucker vote no; Ankeny, Reinartz vote yes

The county board narrowly and somewhat reluctantly said no Tuesday to helping jump start Vision 2020.

Despite positive remarks for the project, commissioners voted 3-2 against a motion to donate $10,000 for seed costs to the community betterment group.

Gary Ray and John Gray went to the board with a second request for the funds to support Vision 2020.

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“We’re out looking for some seed money to keep us going on this exciting project,” Ray told the board.

This time, the decision came down to a vote after County Attorney Kristen Nelsen told the board in May it couldn’t legally donate directly to project. However, Nelsen said the board can donate funds to the Development Corporation of Austin for the purpose of Vision 2020 — like the city did. The board — like most individual commissioners — expressed mixed feelings.

“It’s not easy to sit here and say no to you guys,” Commissioner Tony Bennett said.

Bennett voted no, saying he likes what the project is doing, but many constituents have urged him not to use public money for Vision 2020.

“They would prefer that I did not spend property tax dollars in that manner,” Bennett said.

Gabrielson voted no for largely the same reason, noting he’s heard many negative comments for tax funds being used on projects like Vision 2020 and bike trails.

On the other hand, Commissioner Jerry Reinartz voiced strong support for the project, and quickly made a motion to approve the donation — a motion that failed to gain a second.

“It’s very impressive how it’s pulled the community together,” he said. “In the 40 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Board Chairman Mike Ankeny later motioned to approve the $10,000, and Reinartz seconded.

The split vote came down to Tucker, who hesitated before making his final decision.

Tucker, who represents the 2nd District made up of the eastern county outside Austin, said he’d likely deny a similar request from small towns in his district.

“If they came and asked me the same thing, I’d probably deny it,” he said.

Tucker said he had no problem with his business donating, but saw it differently as a commissioner. If the county donated to Vision 2020, it’d have to give similar funds to the small towns.

Tucker hedged about donating that large a sum to an Austin project, in light of the rest of the county.

Ray refuted that Vision 2020 is just about Austin, noting that small Mower County communities will benefit from making Austin a destination with bike trails and the other projects.

“This is not just a city project,” he said.

Ultimately, Tucker said the county has been mired by budget difficulties lately.

The county’s denial isn’t likely to be a back-breaker for the Vision 2020 goal of $50,000 for startup costs. Ray told the board Vision 2020 officials have secured $10,000 donations from the Hormel Foundation, the city of Austin and Hormel Foods Corp., along with donations from other groups.

“We’re approaching $50,000 right now through different organizations,” Ray said.

The board’s decision wasn’t an all-encompassing no. Gray asked if Vision 2020 officials can come back with specific requests once the 10 ideas are more flushed out to ask for funds again.

“You always are welcome to come back,” Tucker said, before reiterating that the county’s budget issues were his key deciding factor.