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Crosslakers: Working with government to complete projects

By last fall, the Crosslakers organization was eager to get its projects into the implementation stage. It had identified and nurtured ideas identified by Crosslake citizens in 2016 to make Crosslake a better place.

But implementation of the ideas was temporarily stalled until the organization realized that if the ideas were to become reality, they would need to be presented before government agencies at some point.

So Crosslakers invited city, county, state and federal government officials to convene in Crosslake in October to discuss several key Crosslaker projects. The goal of the meeting was twofold: to bring the government officials up to speed on the projects and to ask how citizen groups like the Crosslakers can work with the government to help implement projects that are mutually beneficial to government and citizens.

That well-attended meeting changed everything.

Nowhere was that more apparent than at the recent city of Crosslake workshop held to discuss the city's plans for 2018. Much progress has been made since that October meeting with government officials.

The people in the room for the city of Crosslake workshop included most members of the city council, the mayor, police chief, fire chief, city administrator, city clerk, members of the planning and zoning commission and the Economic Development Authority, the director of public works and the head of parks and recreation.

Also in attendance were several members of the Crosslakers to report on critical topics like water quality, citizen safety, the National Loon Center and a new Crosslake Area Endowment Foundation that group is organizing.

City Administrator/Treasurer Mike Lyonais said the city has a five-year capital budget, and he and department heads prioritize the needs of the departments on that five-year plan. But in a given year when there's an emergency need, there is no contingency set aside to meet that expense to keep the tax levy that year as low as possible. So the emergency is dealt with and items get pushed into the next year, sometimes causing a domino effect on the five-year budget.

When there is a Crosslake city budget shortfall, several local organizations step up to fill the gap. There is a great deal of creativity in the public-private partnerships that exist. The Crosslakers are becoming one of these players, helping to make good things happen without affecting local property taxes. These examples came up at the workshop:

• The National Loon Center Foundation was created as a result of the Crosslakers. Crosslaker Carla White reported that the foundation has been seeking and receiving grants to fund the project to date. The foundation hosted three public meetings in 2017, where the University of Minnesota led discussions on what the public wanted to see in the design of the center. This winter and spring the university's Department of Applied Economics will conduct a feasibility study to determine if a center could be economically sustained.

• Crosslaker Jeff Laurel reported that the organization's water quality group is working to reduce the amount of pollutants going into lakes from nine stormwater outlets in Crosslake. The working group has secured a $10,000 grant that would fund half the cost of a study needed before it can apply for a grant to have work done on the project.

Laurel asked the city to consider helping with the cost of the study. Water quality is a broad topic, and the working group has \ decided to put its initial primary focus on a single project that will have an immediate positive impact on the quality of water locally.

• Crosslaker Pat Netko heads up a connectivity working group that is meeting regularly with city and county officials to find ways to make Crosslake streets safer and more attractive by adding crosswalk markings, flowers on bridges and new streetlights.

The Crosslakers and the Greater Lakes Association of Realtors (GLAR) received a $15,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to hold a workshop event to identify opportunities for improving the current trails system. GLAR added an additional $1,500 grant. The grants enabled GLAR and the Crosslakers to present a Crosslake connectivity walkshop in June.

Participants went on a "walking audit" of some of the town's trails and then returned to discuss ways to improve them. They learned about walkability principles created by Blue Zones, the organization that facilitated the walkshop.

• Crosslaker Dean Fitch talked about the group's current efforts to create the Crosslake Area Endowment Foundation to raise money to fund both short-term and long-term Crosslaker projects. When the Crosslakers were originally organized, potential funders told the group's leaders they would consider contributing funds to the organization if specific project proposals were developed and if their gifts could be tax deductible.

Since then much work has been done to develop the details of the ideas that citizens proposed at the 2016 town meetings, and soon the Crosslake Area Endowment Foundation will serve as a way to help implement those ideas with tax-deductible contributions.

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