• 11Aug

    A victory for common sense, public safety, the Baihly Neighborhood and the City of Rochester. Now if we could just build roads right the first time (and eliminate state aid standards)…

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    MnDOT required the city to remove the speed tables installed on Fox Valley Drive SW over 15 years ago.   You may recall a MnDOT representative came to a COW meeting and explained their position.  They contented the speed tables violated State Aid rules.   The City Public Works staff filed an appeal and requested a Variance from the MnDOT State Aid variance Committee.   The Committee denied the city’s Variance request based entirely on MnDOT staff testimony.  I appealed that denial of the Variance and sought a Contested Case Hearing, as provided for by Statute, on the denial.

    I recently received the attached letter from MnDOT.  The letter states that they have rescinded their denial and rendered the request for a Contested Case as moot.

    The city does not need to remove the speed tables or remove this street from the State Aid system!

    Richard W. Freese, P.E.
    Director Public Works / City Engineer

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  • 24Jul

    Section 2 (of 3) of the comprehensive plan is now available. I spent a good portion of the weekend reading it. It appears outstanding. Section 3 is still a little rough. This is the first full update to the plan the guides community development since the mid to late 1970s. This plan appears to significantly improve the City of Rochester’s focus on the responsible use of financial resources.

    Comprehensive Plan Section 2

    I hope that section 3 will be coming shortly. It is imperative that the council adopt a strong plan, and stick to it.

    Expect that I will organize many community listening sections to discuss this topic.

     

     

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  • 11Aug

    Here is a map of the roadways in Rochester that are at a point that they will need major reconstruction.

     

     

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  • 27Apr

    This is one of those topics that is sure to be controversial so I wanted to make sure that I provided an overview of the current situation. Really we have 3 options; 1) Ignore the problem 2) Raise property taxes to cover needs 3) Use fees to cover needs Sidewalks are a pretty basic and needed city service.

    While we have been doing #1 for as long as I have been on the council, I don’t accept that this is responsible. Between #2 & #3 I think that #3 is more equitable and more effective in the long run. I lean towards doing this because I have many kids, seniors, and disabled constituents in the city that deserve safer walking routes.

    As a side note if you really want to prank someone, get some pink chalk and mark up their sidewalks right after they have a bunch of panels replaced. I had one person that directed some profanity at me personally after getting assessed. I used some chalk a few months later… After he calmed down, he acknowledged I got him pretty good. We called it even at that point.

    Pros:

    • Improved Public Safety.
    • Small stable fee, property owners never get large unexpected bill.
    • Reduces disproportionate property taxes downtown and other high value commercial properties are paying.
    • Funds sidewalk replacements.
    • Funds ADA Transition Plan prevent lawsuit potential.
    • Funds tree preservation for large mature trees.
    • Funds maintenance of existing and future trails along major roads.
    • Partially funds expansion of sidewalk systems to underserved areas especially be schools & transit.
    • Significantly less staff time required to administer.
    • Able to allocate in a much fairer manner than property taxes.
    • Shared among all properties including the many properties that don’t pay taxes.

    Cons:

    • New monthly fee (likely property tax statement possibly $6 per month range).
    • People who recently paid to replace sidewalks panels are hit twice.
    • For 1/3 taxpayers itemizing; slight reduction in deductions relative to property taxes (we are not 100% certain on this, businesses could likely still deduct).

    Currently we have substantial sidewalk needs that are going unfunded. Like much of Rochester, unsustainable sprawl has left us with more infrastructure than we have resources to maintain. If you think this is painful just wait until you see how streets are going to blow up city finances. (Hint we are more than $1 BILLION in the hole and digging it deeper every month). Currently we need about $3.6 million annually to meet sidewalk needs, we are only putting $350k per year into these items. $250k from property taxes & $100k from assessments. Here is where the money would go.

    • Sidewalk Defect Repair Program $1.4M
    • ADA Transition Plan $1.3M
    • Tree Preservation Related to Sidewalks $150k
    • Bituminous Sidewalk/Right of Way Trail Preservation $528k
    • Priority Gap Fill in Sidewalk System $225k

    Even if we go this route there is still a ton of details to work out like who which type of properties pay how much. Maybe we give a small rebate to people that have paid for panels in the last couple years. We could also start by covering 50% of needs and step it up over time.

    Here is the city presentation.

    Sidewalk Improvement Districts

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  • 23Nov

    While I suspect the publishers would never admit it, poor decision making by the Rochester City Council likely led to the creation of this educational video. The firm that created this video, Stonebrooke Engineering, was the same firm that recommended a round about at the intersection of 16th street and Mayowood Road. Many of the 10 myths debunked here were the talking points from Mayor Brede and Councilmember Ed Hruska who led the decision to ignore the professional recommendation. They actually show our intersection in the video.

    The council voted 6-1 to pander to neighbors spouting these myths. WE voted to build an intersection that was significantly more expensive to build (and getting worse), more expensive to maintain and less safe for pedestrians, bikes, transit users, and cars. Since that vote Nick Campion has replaced Bruce Snyder; so a responsible decision would have lost 5-2.

    Bottom line: we are building an intersection that makes us less safe and raises our taxes.

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  • 17Oct

    Here is a study of the broadway corridor:

    Broadway Study Detail

    The situation is that the city inherited about 6 miles of roadway from MnDot and is now planning for the future. My goal is to have vibrant multi-use corridor that spurs intense redevelopment along its entire length. Today Broadway is mediocre for cars and terrible for transit, bikes, and pedestrians. Downtown, Broadway serves to divide the city into a prosperous side and a lesser side. Read more…

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  • 03Oct

    This was a very helpful note in understanding how sprawl has affected not only infrastructure but also public safety. Look what has happened in 50 years. Our population has little more than doubled but or geographic sprawl has gone up nearly 5 fold. Taxes will go up significantly to pay for public safety and infrastructure costs.

    Strictly speaking fires, we had 177 fires in buildings in 1965 out of a total of 505 alarms. We had 197 fires in buildings averaged annually over the last ten years (range 177 to 277) out of an annual average of 7853 total runs (includes EMS calls; 2734 total runs excluding EMS) over the same ten years (2005-2014).

    1966 population was 47,800 and 11.33 square miles of city.

    2012 population was 109,000 with a surface area of 54.75 miles.

    Our average annual number of fires has remained consistent over the years. We have the same number of fires now as compared to back then. What has increased are the other types of calls that only a fire department can respond to, such as technical rescues and hazardous materials for example. This excludes medical calls which we regard as a value-added service to the citizenry since our staffing is for fires (“fires” is a generic term that we apply to any calls that only firefighters are trained and equipped to handle).

    We were rated an ISO Class 5 (1 is the best, 10 is the worst) department in 1965 and we are rated Class 3 today.

    Geography/sprawl does impact the ISO classification. More surface area requires more stations/more personnel. We can explore alternative deployment schemes using current resources to compensate for a while for an expanding city surface area. The Fire Department is not keeping up with the sprawl as evidenced by the falling ISO Rating illustrated in the Summary Report.

    My calculations based on projections using Planning and Zoning numbers, DMC numbers, and our historical annual averages suggest that we need to hire 1.6 firefighters per year (starting in 2013 unfortunately) to maintain current service levels when using an ISO benchmark and current FFs/1000 population.

    Rochester is a fire-safe community with neighborhoods that tend to renew rather than become economically abandoned slum areas. 0.85 FFs per 1000 population seems to be right-sized for COR in that we are coping with the service demands. A concern is deterioration in depth of bench and decay in the ISO Rating which is an objective performance standard used for national benchmarking.

    I have attached the charts you requested and the document they are contained in.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require further.

    Steven Belau
    Deputy Chief-Operations
    Rochester Fire Department

     

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  • 17Sep

    Decades of poor leadership from the city officials have left us in a terrible situation. Our sprawl has meant that that vast majority of our geographic expansion over the last 50 years generates no where near the amount of property taxes as is required to provide services and maintain infrastructure.


     

    The conservative figure from Public Works is that we are underfunding road maintenance by $17 million per year. In addition, staffing for basic functions have not kept pace with demands for service for more than a decade. Note only do we subsidize sprawl on an ongoing basis, we also subsidize it up front. Just in terms of sewer hook ups, we force rate payers to pay an extra $5 million a year to keep the cost of hooking up to city sewers.

    In short, today in Rochester the bottom half on the income scales is paying more to subsidize the top half. In my book that is nuts.

    Given our situation 1 or 2 things must happen.

    1. Get smarter – stop allowing development unless the associated fees and ongoing revenues can support the ongoing operating & capital costs.
    2. Better tie the costs of service and capital needs to those that cause disproportionate consumption so those that drive up costs pay their disproportionately high share.

    State property tax law explicitly forbids us from distributing costs in proportion to services demanded. We are just plain stuck there. HOWEVER, we can structure fees to better cover the driver of costs. That is why I am open, but not committed to using more fees in the future as opposed to sticking on property taxes.

    Rochester is complicated because non-profits do not pay property taxes. We have a number of huge non-profits on expensive parcels which forces everyone else to pay more. Non-profits do however have to pay fees.

    Minnesota is complicated because taxes are disproportionately assigned to business properties, meaning businesses (for-profit) carry the weight of subsiding our sprawl.

    I often hear that it is better to put the burden in property taxes as if can be deducted, but this is probably overstated or just not true. In general property tax deductions work for those with a mortgage that means that are probably pretty well off and still working. A fee would represent less of a hit for more people because it is spread over more parcels.

    Bottom line, fees probably could benefit more people and distribute costs more fairly IF they are structured right. I opposed the street light fee in the past because it was not structured right.

    Data on how tax policy favors wealthy home owners.

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  • 17May

    When city leaders prioritize their own opinions over public safety it makes our community less safe.

    Converting roadways from 4 lanes to 3 lanes (with or without bike lanes) is almost always the right call. Unfortunately Rochester suffers from some “fact resistant” leaders that would put their opinions ahead of science and real world data. They are endangering our safety. It makes me angry and I hope it makes you angry as well.

    Here is the latest article explaining why 4-to-3 conversions are so smart for cities. An example in Rochester that has worked fantastic in 2nd street SW between West Circle Drive and 23rd Avenue SW.

    Boost Safety with a Road Diet

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  • 13May

    Rather than retyping this I will just post it hear and link it:

    Rochester has far more in built infrastructure than we have funds to maintain. There are 3 ways of addressing this.

    1) Ignore it – This is what we are doing today. We neither quantify the size of our unfunded liability nor evaluate the impacts decisions we make have on it. We know our infrastructure is underfunded to the tune of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.

    2) Be smarter with our infrastructure – Figure out how to make it last longer, figure out how to serve more people and businesses with the same amount or less infrastructure. Cutting down on wear & tear is a good start. Addressing Rochester’s serious sprawl is also important.

    3) Pay substantially higher taxes and fees. How high is difficult to quantify because we have not yet quantified how big the shortfall is or how fast it is growing. I think it is fair to say that you could expect city taxes and fees to increase 50% – 100% as a result of our unfunded liabilities.

    Garbage trucks are one of the most destructive things on our roads not designed for 90,000 lb. vehicles. We likely can cut costs, pollution, and congestion as well as improve road life. We can set service standards and prices to ensure quality.

    Lets evaluate the issue, get meaningful data and make the correct decision.

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