COVID19, What next?

Note: Below is a work in progress, help me make it better.

Wow, what a punch to the gut. If you are uncertain, fearful, anxious, or just hurting, I hope that is OK, because I feel the same. I wish there was something I could say that would ease the pain for many of the people and small businesses out there who are hurting. I don’t have that answer and can only say that I continue to search for what we as a community can do better. Many of you are dealing with this crisis in real time. I am spending some of my time trying to figure out where we go from here.

One thing that I would never want to change is the outpouring of mutual support of each other. We have business owners, low wage workers, community organizations, and local governments all trying to figure out how we all get through this. We have much to be grateful for. We have the best hospital in the world and are a community where both young people and retirees choose to live. The City maintains a AAA bond rating and we can supply many of our needs regionally. We do have some tools to work with.

I understand that many people are just trying to survive economically or health wise, but I also understand that the community that plans to recover will be the community that recovers faster. In times like these cities face increased costs and declining revenues, so prioritization becomes even more important. Cities in Minnesota also don’t have very much flexibility in terms of how they raise revenue and thus far Federal legislation has done little to assist cities. Here are some priorities as I see it going forward.

Priority #1: Addressing the needs of all people

  • Every person must have needs, including food, clothing, shelter, health, safety, and access to information met.
  • Police, Fire, EMTs, Social Service organizations continue to to outstanding work.
  • We don’t know how long this will last, but the needs of vulnerable populations, immigrants, unsheltered people, and those with other mobility limitations must continue to be a priority.
  • There is a moratorium on residential evictions, many people can’t pay residential or business rent today. Property owners must show flexibility because so many are in this situation.

Priority #2: Maintaining City Services

  • City revenues will decrease this year and in 2021.
  • The City must strive to maintain or lower the 2020 property tax rate in 2021. Note this is only possible if the State does not further reduce LGA dollars coming back to the community, which they are currently planning.
  • The City must keep 2020 projects and planning on track so as to not create additional job losses.
  • The City should adjust 2021 operational priorities to specifically support low wage earners and the unemployed.
  • The City should aggressively pursue new State & Federal grant opportunities which become available as a result of COVID19. None of these are more important than September submission for a Transit Grant, which would bring nearly $200M in capital investment to Rochester.
  • The City should ensure that we prioritize matching funds to better leverage State & Federal programs.
  • The City should adjust our 6 year Capital Plan to prioritize projects than can channel work to local people and businesses.
  • The City should utilize its AAA rating and low interest rates to advance projects and put people to work.
  • The City should not expand our geographic boundaries or build new suburban infrastructure.
  • The City should do a complete redo of the parking rate study and assume no more growth in downtown public parking. People are clearly not willing to pay actual costs so we should prioritize elsewhere, eliminating growth may also serve to lower rates.

Priority #3: Assisting Community Businesses and Spurring Recovery

Understanding that small business support in more the role of State & Federal Governments:

  • Delay required payments. Cities can not deficit spend, however to the extent possible we should expand the time frame for payments for businesses or people who are struggling.
  • I support delaying the 1st half property tax until July 15th for businesses that have been directly impacting by COVID19.
  • I support delaying payment for city licenses for businesses that have been directly impacting by COVID19.
  • I support out temporary modifications to parking to reduce transit ridership & promote distancing.

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