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Mark Herschlip, Published March 10 2012

Trollwood mess rests with board

Several Forum articles about the Trollwood/Bluestem Performing Arts Center in Moorhead prompted me to write to the Fargo School Board and administration expressing concerns. Below are concerns I expressed and responses from the board:

I asked several questions of board President Jim Johnson, and he responded by saying that there are “no current problems” with Trollwood/Bluestem. I beg to differ.

The first problem is that the board and the administration exhibited very poor decision-making when the Trollwood deals were drawn up in 2005. Apparently, these agreements will not be resolved without Fargo taxpayers bailing out an organization, Futurebuilders/

Bluestem. Because of 2005 agreements, Fargo taxpayers will have nothing to show for their default Trollwood/Bluestem investment. By that I mean no real estate asset – Moorhead owns the entire complex.

If I have this correct, Minnesota paid $5 million for the structure. Futurebuilders paid, according to Moorhead’s city planner, at least

$10 million or more for construction, and now Fargo taxpayers are on the hook for $5 million to $6 million of the construction – cost backed by bonds and loans guaranteed by the district. To tell you the truth, this is like buying the property for the landlord and then having to pay rent to the landlord. None of this makes good business sense.

At the origin of this deal, the district assumed financial risk that they were willing to lay on the taxpayer. It’s as though they were mortgaging future tax revenues without the spending authority to do so. Also, what gives the district the right to collect taxpayer money and loan it out at 0 percent interest to Futurebuilders (which they did)?

One thing I am certain of is that Futurebuilders should not be scapegoated by the school district administration or by the board, since it is the board and the administration that has engaged in what some say are unscrupulous dealings. It is the Fargo board and administration that should be fundraising instead of using our tax dollars. Baked goods, anyone? I hope the administrators and board have some concrete plans to fundraise instead of picking the taxpayers’ pockets.

Johnson stated that the district is “not funding any entities” in Minnesota. What would he call using taxpayer dollars to pay on the default? Does he not consider the operating costs taxpayer money, and are they not funding a Minnesota entity? Of course they are.

The school district and the board are entrusted with the fiduciary responsibility to manage the Fargo taxpayers’ interest and in my opinion, they have done a better job for Moorhead than they have for Fargo. For Fargo taxpayers, they have failed miserably.

Herschlip was an unsuccessful candidate for the Fargo School Board in 2006.