City Hall

Over-reaches, miss-steps, an the occasional successes of our local government

Priorities vs. Efficiencies

I think every candidate has something to say about priorities for City Hall. Nobody can say public safety, for example, is not a priority. Looking deeper, we have to consider the ordering of priorities and the trade-offs implicit in putting one need above another desire.

I say Basics First! That means we fund core services toward excellence before we fund non-critical initiatives. I'm in favor of getting the basics right over doing eveything inadequately.

Rather than admit to trade-offs and acknowledge there's just not enough tax money to support every good idea, candidates will bring up the notion of increasing efficiency as a way to escape the harsh constraints of economics and finance. But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

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KFAI Radio Interview

On October 19th, KFAI radio (90.3 FM) aired a news story on the First Ward Council race. Four of the five competitors were interviewed, and those interviews were edited into individual segments. Here's mine:

Northeaster Candidate Questionnaire

As I was out doorknocking Monday and Tuesday afternoon, I saw the latest Northeaster being delivered. In case your copy didn’t make it all the way to your front steps (or got too wet to read), here are my answers to the Northeaster’s candidate questionnaire:

1) YOUR BACKGROUND: EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION, COMMUNITY SERVICE, VOLUNTEER JOBS, ETC., AS THESE EXPERIENCES MIGHT RELATE TO YOUR QUALIFICATIONS FOR THIS OFFICE. (100 WORDS OR LESS)

I came up through the NRP system. I was recruited onto my neighborhood Board and served two terms as President. From grassroots outreach to working with City officials on neighborhood projects, I’ve done everything a volunteer can do to address community concerns.

I was the first volunteer for the Northeast Citizen Patrol. I’ve put in thousands of hours across every Northeast neighborhood making a stand against crime. I’ve heard the worries of people our entrenched political system overlooks.

I’ve been a Northeaster for 18 years, after being raised in southwest. I know how the rest of the city sees us.

2) WHY ARE YOU RUNNING, AND WHAT IS YOUR MAIN PRIORITY? (100 WORDS OR LESS)

Taxes keep going up while services are being cut. City Hall puts pet projects ahead of streets, cops and firefighters. I say, “Basics First!”

A Priority Test

The StarTribune published some good news for Minneapolis residents. Low interest rates will allow City Hall to refinance some bonds and save $8 million.

"There is a big demand for municipal debt due to its perceived safety," said Michael Abeln, director of capital and debt management for the city of Minneapolis. "Because there is a lot of demand, the rates that we have to pay are dropped."

Bond investors trust City Hall to make good on its promises. That trust is well-founded. Our city has earned a great credit rating. But what about the promises City Hall makes to residents? What happens to that $8M—which was our money in the first place?

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$10,000 Trade-off

As an example of the trade-offs a Councilmember faces, consider this StarTribune story about the lawsuits between City Hall and old firefighter and police pension funds:

The city alleges that the funds are improperly including some fringe benefits that shouldn't be included in the salary base for calculating pensions. …  In pretrial rulings, [a Judge] found merit in substantial aspects of the city's arguments, and the two sides have engaged in extensive settlement discussions.

If the city wins, the decision could cut the property tax levy for pensions next year by $11 million, according to city finance officials.

The financial drain on the city also is increasing sharply next year, because of investment losses caused by market declines and because of a Legislature-approved change in assumptions about the longevity of retired police officers. Those costs are the biggest reasons that Mayor R.T. Rybak has proposed an 11.3 percent property tax increase for next year.

According to the reporter, the funds have made an offer that would reduce the City’s obligation next year by more than $14 million.

First, it appears the funds are offering more than the City hopes to gain through its suit, $14M vs. $11M. But I expect the devil is in the details. Are the funds offering a one-year adjustment, or are they willing to correct the seemingly inflated basis-of-pay calculations?

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Business Day at City Hall

Last Friday, September 29th, was Business Day at City Hall. This was a gathering organized by the City of Lakes Chamber of Commerce aimed at developing an open and constructive dialog between the business community and City officials. I was the only candidate from my Ward—and perhaps the only non-incumbent City Council candidate—who thought hearing from business interests was important.

It was a worthwhile event. The day began with a short talk by Mayor Rybak. R.T. listed many benefits the city has offered to businesses in recent years. But he never mentioned the costs. And many of the things Rybak highlighted—like commute rail—benefit suburbanites much more than Minneapolis residents. We make it as easy as possible for outlanders to come work in tall buildings owned by other outlanders. It seemed like R.T. saw Minneapolis as a destination, not a home.

After the Mayor, we heard a report about taxes from the Chamber. Businesses pay 33% of all property taxes collected by the City, while homeowners pay 44%. Minneapolis taxes are the highest in the Metro area. In addition, business fees have risen over 11% in the last four years. The Chamber did credit City Hall for keeping spending down.

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