• 04Dec

    I anticipate a very frustrating budget process which may leave me unable to support the proposed budget. Right now as I review the budget, the tax levy increase is at about 9% which is about the same as the valuation increase of the city. This means that if your property value is flat your taxes will probably be pretty flat. If you saw a tax increase it is probably because This masks some serious underlying issues. I still have many questions so if my analysis is incorrect. I have many more thoughts, but these are some highlights.

    As always I have an open ended question, if you want to see cuts let me know what you have in mind…

    Problems:

    1. We continue to ignore actual maintenance costs. Streets which are the most serious issues require $22.9M in annual maintenance. It looks like we are putting in maybe $5 million. Worse yet I believe a fair amount of the funding is coming from one time moneys. This will catch up with us. To fix the current situation with taxes would require an enormous tax increase. Further this is only streets, we also have similar issues with sewer, buildings, parks, and other municipal entities. In short, we have more infrastructure to maintain than we have resources to maintain it. Not only are we not properly funding maintenance, we don’t even have a plan to phase this in!
    2. While the proposed reduction in the levy is nice we are failing to fund a few priorities that I see as key. In particular, public safety both in terms is law enforcement and safe infrastructure lacks the improvements I would like to see. Further many of the issues resulting from a lack of focus on sustainability will not be addressed if we have no staff to focus on that sustainability.
    3. The lack of action from the PASC has left us with a huge hole in the planning department 2017. The group seldom meets and has taken no action to address the serious issues raised in the Stantec Report. As a city, we need a fully staffed planning department, but the responsibility for that staffing currently lies in the county. We currently have a significantly understaffed department lacking key skills like urban design & architecture. We also lack the necessary communications between planning, building inspections, and public works. The pay scale in the department also appears to be unrealistic in attracting top talent. We are lucky to have devoted experienced employees that help mask the issues. As of a completely worthless meeting last week, there was still no decisions made. Rochester pays 76% of Olmsted County taxes. Olmsted County benefits greatly from planning in Rochester, but wants the city to fund the needed positions. The system is completely broken and the PASC has neither the desire or drive to address these issues. In the budget we need to know if we need to create a city planning department. We do not have the information we need to make an informed decision.
    4. Basically this budget does not consider broadband or the steps to get there. Rochester lacks the technology to remain competitive and a lack of competition results in high rates and poor service. Our kids that could most benefit from broadband often can’t afford it. We already have an independently verified business case showing that municipal broadband is viable in Rochester. The next step will be to do a market study to make sure the utility could sustain itself without taxpayer subsidy (just like Longmont Co.). However this budget doesn’t seem to realize this as a priority despite overwhelming support.

    Solutions:

    There are solutions, but an unwillingness by some council members to make the changes that are necessary to put us on solid financial footing. Here are a few, some that are being done already in Rochester.

    1. Utility basis budgeting – RPU already is pursuing this with both the water & electric utility. What this basically means is that for every asset the utility owns we make annual payments to ensure we always have the funds to maintain or replace major assets. If this seems like common sense, it is…
    2. Financial analysis – I believe that we should not accept any new infrastructure as a public asset unless taxes / value available for maintenance exceeds the cost of maintenance. In other words, stop building money losing infrastructure. Now this infrastructure may still be built, but it should then be privately owned and maintained. This is not intended to affect public amenities like parks, library, arts, etc. If this seems like common sense, it is…
    3. Foolish subsidies – We have to stop this. We charge a substantial fee (sewer customer charge) to every single household in Rochester to subsidize new development. We seriously charge people barely making it in Rochester extra so we can subsidize million dollar homes. This is madness, but it continues year after year. We need to end these types of subsidies. If this seems like common sense, it is…
    4. 5 year finance plan – We need stop kicking the can down the road year after year. We need to seriously address the structural failings of our current finances. And yet every year we meet and take no meaningful action. A longer term horizon would force us to stop gaming the system, exhausting one time monies, and failing to properly prepare to deliver services. We have made progress in planning for staff, and then subsequently ignore that plan in order to push needed staff into the next year. We need a longer term plan that the community can proactively weigh in on. If this seems like common sense, it is…

    Tags: ,

  • 27Oct

    #Integrity is on the ballot…

    Lets be clear Dark Money is not attacking me and propping up my opponent because I am a bad candidate, a bad person, or ineffective. They are not painting me as a bad person because people believe that. And they certainly are not shying away from actual issues because I am wrong on them. Lets review the issues and see what they are trying to buy.

    Let review a few policies that I believe dark money people (as outed by the Med City Beat) oppose.

    Municipal Broadband – Longmont CO is similar in size to Rochester and built out a municipal fiber to the home system. People in Longmont get up to 250 times the speeds we get in Rochester for $50 per month. Additionally low-income households can get broadband for less. This would be a huge benefit for local consumers, businesses, and children. John Wade, Journey 2 Growth, Charter Communications and by extension the Dark Money people strongly oppose this. They are trying to silence us on Broadband.

    DMC Money – I have long held that public funds should be held for public benefit. There was a Holiday Inn proposed across from St. Marys. Javon Bea bought the land for somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, he was going to sell the land to a developer a couple years later for around $12 million. The developer then came to the city asking for $6 million in DMC funds to make the project work. I do not believe we should use DMC funds to line the pockets of speculator. While campaign contributions are relatively limited; PACs allow people like Javon or Andy Chafoulias to hypothetically give unlimited funds in secrecy. When you see the kind of money at stake you can see why $50k to manipulate an election is a good purchase.

    Affordable Housing – Inclusionary Zoning is best and most effective policy for creating affordable housing. I support this policy (along with a number of others) and have led the charge to develop a plan for Rochester. My opponent, Patrick Sexton, SEMAR, and by extension the dark money people strongly oppose this. They are trying to silence us on affordable housing.

    Historic Preservation – I support a strong preservation ordinance that will protect our most special historic places like historic 3rd street, the Paine Furniture Building, and similar. We know preservation works in Rochester, just look at the current home of Blue Duck. I respect property rights as the Supreme Court has settled this issue. However, John Wade, Chamber of Commerce, Rochester Area Builders, and SEMAR created their own group dedicated to making sure Rochester’s preservation ordinance was the weakest in the state of Minnesota. It is no surprise that there are connections here to Dark Money. They are trying to silence us on Historic Preservation.

    Developer Subsidies – One of the greatest injustices in comes to you every month in your RPU bill. There you will find something called a Sewer Customer Charge (city charge). In the last decade this has gone up by many hundred percent. Most of this increase is actually a subsidy for new homes. A sewer plant expansion was done years ago solely for the purpose of serving new development. The problem was the Rochester Area Builders Association didn’t want to pay the actual cost of services so they got the city council to instead put most of the cost on existing ratepayers. This is a horribly regressive tax. It is entirely truthful to say that in the city of Rochester the very poorest renters in the community actually pay extra every single month to subsidize the construction of million dollar homes. This is madness, but a policy advocated for by the Chamber of Commerce, SEMAR, and Rochester Area Builders and by extension Dark Money. They wish to silence the voice that fights against this subsidy.

    Stay tuned… Many, many more examples coming / edits coming… Volunteers currently working to write more examples.

    Tags: ,

  • 20Oct

    Topics discussed:

    1. Development
    2. Affordable Housing
    3. Transportation
    4. Broadband

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • 19Oct

    Tags:

  • 13Oct

    As always I am answering the questions for a private organization in a public way so everyone can see them. I have also requested a link to other candidate responses AND a link to the video recording of the candidate forum I participated in. I think some of the answers given in that forum were very enlightening and wish to share them.

    Do you believe there is a need for a development coordinator in the city of Rochester, one that would provide guidance through the development process and be the point contact for developers?

    Read more…

    Tags: ,

  • 15Sep

    I promised to answer any follow up questions from the neighborhood forum last week. I did get some so here are additional answers.

    Do you favor expanding the public library?

    yes

    Do you believe that Soldier’s Field is an appropriate location for a new library?

    Not without infrastructure to make it more accessible by walk, bike, transit, car & broadband. With infrastructure I could support.

    Would you prefer expanding the current location or some other option?

    I support whatever best provides critical library service to our community.

    When reviewing a building for inclusion on a list of protected buildings for heritage preservation protected by City government, should a property owner be able to remove his building from being included on a list and opt out (assuming the building is in satisfactory condition)?

    No, a building is either historic or it is not. There should be a fair process to be delisted for valid & verifiable reasons.

    Should any Rochester resident be able to nominate a building for a heritage preservation ordinance and protection, even if he/she does not own that building?

    Yes

    In the nomination of buildings for a heritage preservation list, should a fee be charged be charged by the City to an owner or a non-owner to nominate a buildings (Pay to Play)?

    Maybe not, I previously suggested a fee to prevent games, but it has been pointed out that this might be a solution in search of a problem. I’m open. I disagree that the cost of providing a service is pay to play.

    Should a fee charged to someone, either owner or non-owner, who wants to appeal a decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission to the City Council?

    See the previous answer.

    Tags: , ,

  • 02Sep

    Chamber Q&A

    1: What do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing our community? What specific actions would you take or what policies would you put in place to address that challenge?

    Infrastructure – Growth in city infrastructure has exceeded our ability to pay for it. We are nearing the size of Minneapolis with less that 1/3 of the population. This is resulting in upward pressures in funding, largely hitting small businesses. We now see an unfunded liability of $1.4 billion and growing. Without action this will inhibit the ability fund all other services including public safety, parks, and the library.

    Solutions: Read more…

    Tags:

  • 27Aug

    Thank you to everyone that attended the Mom’s blog forum. As promised hear are answers to all questions asked. As I have always been I am a strong supporter of transparency, and wish to give straight answers to all questions and no political speak. Thus if anything needs more clarification (or editing) just let me know.

    1. When asked what family friendly amenity would you add to Rochester, the overwhelming response was a splash-pad* (more than 1 to curtail over-crowding and parking issues) and a family friendly aquatic center similar to Stewartville and St. Charles to add to our old and over-crowded city pools. What are your thoughts on that and how would you work to add these amenities to our cities? Read more…

    Tags: ,

  • 15Feb

    Our City Charter recognizes 3 needs that are so critical to our community that it “constitutionally” created boards to over see them. They are Public Utilities, Parks, and the Library. The library remains critical to our community and usage continues to surge every single year. 20 years ago the library was built too small as a result of cost saving measures. Now we have a chance to address it. Unlike other levels of government we actually have to pay for the things we get, as such there will be a cost associated with the expansion. As always, I subscribe to the belief that we do it right the first time, and this means a significant investment. Read more…

    Tags: , , ,

  • 07Feb

    Here is some data on the makeup of Rochester’s Boards and Commissions. I strongly disagree with Councilmen Hickey & Hruska who suggested the make up is this way because we are selecting the best citizens. The fact that we are more than 2-1 male tells me clearly we are not engaging the community and getting the best. Based on this data I will ask that the Mayor provide the list of applicants along with the recommendations for appointment. I would have more sympathy for the status quo if I was not aware of the incredibly talented women that have been passed over for boards. I also don’t accept that we are limited by applications as the Mayor is responsible for getting people from all walks of life engaged in the community.

    The racial data is a little harder to interpret. While we know that about 50% of the community is women, we know that about 22% of the population is minority in the last census. The difficulty is that I don’t know what the adult minority portion of the population is, we know that children of color in this community are far more than 22%.

    If we don’t hear from all voices in the community we won’t effectively serve the entire community. Case and point: Heavy developer subsidies for luxury housing: HELL YES! Focus on transit & affordable housing: NOPE! Bottom line is it is easier to learn and apply online if you can afford broadband…

     photo Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.34.18 PM_zpsfc1iaxf5.png

     photo Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.34.07 PM_zpscc6aeqhf.png

    Tags: ,

« Previous Entries   Next Entries »