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North Side incentive or slush fund?

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: December 6, 2011 - 2:15 PM

The tiger of City Hall, Lisa Goodman, was ready to pounce Tuesday just before lunch

She landed on a $164,600 proposal to create a North Side Business Initiative. The idea, according to city development officials, is to set aside a pot of money to finance capital needs of businesses willing to locate on the North Side.  They could use the money on facilities, remodeling or equipment, and would be be held to job-creation goals.

That type of discretionary money would have helped the city entice a call center operation to the North Side in one recent case, Cathy Polasky, the city's economic development director, told the council's budget committee.

Goodman landed with claws out, deriding the proposal as a slush fund. Her real beef was that the council's money committee was considering a half-baked proposal from Chair Betsy Hodges that she felt more properly was the policy domain of the Community Development Committee Goodman chairs.

The money would come from a federal community development grant that turned out to be $400,000 more than expected when budget recommendaitons were made.  Goodman pointed out that lots of nonprofits who lost their funding when that program contracted would love to be reconsidered for the money. 

She got support from Council Member  Meg Tuthill, who has started two businesses.  "It's too loosey-goosey for me and it's not enough money to do something substantial," she said.

Goodman wrongly ascribed the proposal to Mayor R.T. Rybak, who aides disavowed it. Hodges said it's her proposal, but Polasky said it originated with the department. 

The city's most notable venture into subsidizing a North Side business came when arranged aobut $3 million in tax-financing for Coloplast. a medical products firm.  But the company so far has failed to perform on the jobs it promised for North Side residents. The target area for the initiative would exclude much of the city's redeveloping former scrap yards between Interstate 94 and the Mississippi River. 

Hodges returned from a lunch break to withdraw here proposal "for today." The amending continues Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

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