GRAND FORKS — A proposal to change the metro status of Grand Forks, Bismarck and more than 100 other communities across the nation is being considered by the federal Office of Management and Budget.
On the surface, it may sound like quibbling among small cities to retain their status, their dignity and a larger dot on the national map. After all, calling a community a “metro” looks pretty good on a development brochure.
The trouble with the idea is the unknown. So far, few concrete details have emerged to help explain why the change is being proposed and what effects could come because of it.
Here’s what we know: The OMB is reviewing an update to the definition of a “metropolitan statistical area,” the term that helps the government organize and classify communities. At present, one requirement is that a city’s "urban area" has a population of at least 50,000. But the rule change could double that requirement to 100,000.
This is more than just a change in how we tout our community, and it goes beyond the obvious blow to our regional ego. Having a town such as Mankota, Minn., or Rapid City, S.D., classified as a “metro” might seem outlandish to people in places such as Minneapolis or Chicago, but that simple term often can be the difference in gathering federal funds to help pay for local infrastructure projects and other community amenities.
“Our concern is not about today, but it’s about what this might mean into the future,” Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said.
A report published last week by the Brookings Institution — written by Anthony F. Pipa and Natalie Geismar — lays out a number of concerns and questions with the OMB’s proposal. Among them, the authors note, is its impact to “federal funding and program administration — with the full scope unknown.”
“Federal programs often use the MSA standards to set eligibility requirements, allocation formulas, scoring criteria and several other dimensions of program administration,” the authors wrote. “The impact of the proposed change in MSA size on these programs has not been fully analyzed nor is it well-understood, and in some cases could be significant.”
A notable concern should be how this potential change will impact not just federal funding, but how it will affect a community’s quality of life. Without dollars for new infrastructure, projects such as underpasses and interstate exchanges could fall by the wayside. Without dollars for transportation, certain amenities — such as bus service — could be greatly reduced. Some predict the change could adversely affect affordable housing projects and Medicare reimbursement.
It all adds up to a potential reduction not only in development — will large, job-producing projects consider “micropolitan” areas in the future? — but also in everyday life for the people who already live here.
The piece published by the Brookings Institution concludes by saying that “the proposed change is potentially so significant, and the statistical and financial consequences too insufficiently understood, for OMB to make an informed decision.”
We agree. The best next step for this proposal is to file it and then stash it deep in a cabinet or, preferably, in a wastebasket. At the least, the decision should be delayed until more can be known about its long-term impact.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.