• 12Mar
    At the Nation League of Cities the Community & Economic Development Board just heard a presentation on Sister Cities. Hey I have a question I would like to crowd source or ask the media to help me answer a question. The state of Minnesota says we have 5 Sister Cities. From Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

    When the mayor speak on Sister Cities he mentions we have 3.

    • Moosburg (Germany)
    • Xianyang (Shaanxi, China)
    • Shiheung City (South Korea)

    So what is the story with the other 2. I would love to take a (personal) trip to Kathmandu.

     

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  • 26May

    Here was a nice summary from the Fire Chief on some questions that came up about the new fire station.

    1. What was the process for the station? – In order to build this station, we went through numerous approval processes. First, the project had to be approved by the sales tax committee. After all the potential projects were presented, the concept of a joint fire, police, dispatch and EOC was rated the #1 project by the committee. After that, there were numerous other approval processes to navigate. These include, in no particular order, council approval, legislative approval, voter approval (to extend the sales tax to pay for it) planning and zoning, traffic (to allow us to exit directly onto Viola Road) energy commission, architectural review, architect selection, contractor selection and bid award.


    2. How much is this costing the Rochester taxpayers? The construction cost ($8.8 million) is funded by the sales tax. This means that this is not funded by property taxes and is actually funded by anyone who lives here or visits Rochester and spends money. Since we are the home of the Mayo Clinic, that means that many sales tax projects are partially funded by visitors. The cost of the land, other land acquisition, etc. was funded by either general fund money (property taxes) or public works funds. I would assume that the city, will at some point, will sell some or all of the remaining 4 acres to recoup some costs. If a business of some type locates there they will pay property taxes, have employees, etc. New sewer and water lines have been installed in the area that will help drive development.

    3. Why is the station so big for only three RFD personnel?? The funding was approved for this facility based on it being a multi-use facility. Here’s a quick rundown:

      1. Like our other stations, RPD, will have a presence there since there is office space in the lower level.

      2. The lower level has room for an Emergency Operations Center. Currently, the city does not have a “real “EOC that meets any sort of best practices. We have a temporary one on the 3rdfloor of city hall.

      3. The EOC has a large room for activations but a room that will see more use as a city and department meeting room and classroom. Currently, classroom space for city training is at a premium.

      4. The firefighter quarters has the typical RFD fire station amenities, kitchen, work out area, dorms, etc. There is room for six dorm rooms. Why? We built in extra dorm rooms to accommodate a future additional engine company. The northeast area is developing and the city has added water and sewer lines. We had a firefighter committee involved in the design process. We are simply trying to plan ahead as much as is practical.

      5. The truck bay is larger to accommodate a future additional crew and to have storage room for current equipment. As you know, truck bay space is always at a premium in a fire department.

      6. We are proud of our RFD history. As such, there is space in the station to display the Fox and other fire department memorabilia

      7. Adjacent to the “museum” area is a small conference room. It is separate from the station so that other city departments or community groups could use it for a meeting without impacting station personnel or compromising station security.

      8. The station will also house a future dispatch center.

    4. What is going on with dispatch?Currently, dispatch is located in the Government Center and has six positions. As RFD continues to experience 2% to 5% call volume increases a year, dispatch will need more positions. (Law Enforcement will see increased calls also) The new center has the potential to allow up to 12 dispatch stations. There is no moving date at this time. I would assume it will take some time to get a plan and funding together for this.

    5. Why wasn’t a floor put in dispatch? This was NOT a money issue for the construction of this project. We didn’t put a floor in dispatch because there is no final design for dispatch. This means there are no wiring and cabling plans. If we “guessed” and put conduit in the floor and then poured a concrete floor it might all have to come out for a new center.

    6. We did upsize the generator to a size that will allow the entire facility, including future dispatch, to be powered up in the event of a power outage.

    7. When will the station be open?? – Our best estimate is that we will move into the station in late June. This is subject to change due to the work schedule of the contractors

    8. Run cards – We have a first draft for Station 2 and will do our best to get it right. Since this is NEW there will likely be boundaries that will change after a few months of actual experience. We can then make additional adjustments. The message is, be patient and give us feedback so we can ultimately get the new run cards as accurate as possible. Run cards are never cast in stone.

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  • 29Mar

    Hello all,

    I thought you might like an update on Broadband / Cable. There has been a lot of news.

    What you should to do:

    1)   Contact all council members & mayor by email, phone, social media, and in person and tell them that broadband is important and the entire community deserves quality affordable broadband.

    2)   Write a letter to the editor on the importance of community broadband and why you don’t think the current environment is OK.

    Common Q&A

    1)

    1. Q: “I am more concerned about the lack of competition in cable, why do I care about broadband?”
    2. A:

    i.     I realized I was confusing some people It is important to understand that the city does not prevent other cable companies from coming to Rochester. The reason that they do not come here is that they would have to build a $50 million (estimated) network and hope that they can sign up enough customers to pay for that cost understanding that the incumbent providers will try to bankrupt the new competitor with temporary specials. By creating our own municipally owned broadband utility we can permanently ensure competition.

    ii.     The network that can deliver broadband can also deliver video. The city could deliver video services or contract with a 3rd party to do so or simply rent our network to private companies to deliver these services. I believe the study will show that video services can help pay for the cost of the network.

    2)

    1. Q: Do community broadband network work?
    2. A: Yes, and they are incredibly popular as well. Right now there are hundreds of publically owned networks around the country. Alcatel Lucent is currently working with 30 cities in the United States and all 30 are cash flow positive (not losing money).

    3)

    1. Q: Can the city own a broadband network?
    2. A: Yes, the FCC has made this crystal clear.

    4)

    1. Q: Does the city need to have a referendum for broadband?
    2. A: No, the state of Minnesota has a 100-year-old law that states that cities must have a referendum to operate a telephone exchange. If we, as a city, wanted to bundle telephone with video and broadband we would need to do a referendum. That would be silly though as anyone can get phone through broadband easily. Additionally we could partner with a private vendor to offer those services.

    5)

    1. Q: How much would this cost?
    2. A: We are trying to evaluate this. If a system cost $50 million that would translate to about $3 per home / business per month.  In other places the creation of a public network typically reduces costs $20 or more per month. Currently broadband in Rochester costs $60 per month for regularly priced broadband.

    6)

    1. Q: What if I don’t want government competing with private industry?
    2. A:

    i.     This has more to do with ideology. We already have government services provide in water, storm water, electricity, sewer, police, fire, education, etc. I like to remind people that RPU’s customer satisfaction is around 90%, what do you think Charter’s is?

    ii.     There are options where we could build out a fiber system and lease it to a private business. I suspect this will increase costs and decrease service as we introduce a profit motive.

    iii.     The one critical thing that we need is community ownership of the network. If we don’t own the network we will just find ourselves at the mercy of another company.

    7)

    1. Q: What if the system fails?
    2. A:

    i.     The reason we study this ahead of time is to ensure that it won’t fail. We understand that if we created a municipal network Charter, CenturyLink and others would try to price us out of business.

    ii.     If the network never produced a penny of revenue the cost to the average family or business would probably be around $3 per month. That is before savings to local governments.

    iii.     Define fail… In the case of Monticello the finances collapsed however the average citizen is saving about $25 dollars a month and has far better service than before.

    8)

    1. Q: What about Charter’s jobs in Rochester?
    2. A: Charter is not a charity. Their jobs in Rochester are here because there is a business case. They also refuse to indicate home many of these jobs pay a living wage, I suspect many do not. The reality is that Charter is an out-of-state corporation that takes a great deal of money out of this community forever. Whoever provides broadband in Rochester will have a number of jobs here. Overall we would be far better off by keeping all that broadband money in the region.

    9)

    1. Q: Isn’t CenturyLink already investing in Rochester?
    2. A:

    i.     Yes they are, so is Charter however this is unlikely to help many homeowners. Both companies are interested in serving the most profitable customers, which does not include existing homeowners.

    ii.     2 companies is not a competitive marketplace. While it is more competitive than just Charter we would need half a dozen before we could expect to see real competition in terms of price, speed, and customer service.

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  • 15Jun
    Here are some questions that I clumsily tried to field from a concerned citizen”
    With summer in full force, our downtown is getting busy.  This is a great time of year to enjoy what the center of our city has to offer.  It does seem that some enjoy our downtown more than others.  The piles of vomit and obvious pools of urine along with litter associated with a night on the town are becoming all too common.  City Council has been eager to issue a number of licences to new bars in the downtown and by doing so, established a bar district.   As someone who works, shops and plays downtown, I have several concerns that you maybe able to help me understand:
    After seeing fighting, public urination and extreme public drunkenness I am concerned that the police are not engaging the problem in a way that is most effective.  I have seen squad cars parked in front of Bilotti’s but the officers do not leave the vehicle.  In other cities with bar districts, it is not uncommon to see police on foot and/or bikes patrolling the sidewalks, parking areas and inside the establishments.  Not being intrusive or forceful, just there, face to face as a way of reminding folks that there are a few basic rules that should be followed.  Is there a plan for police presence to be increased in proportion to the amount of activity going on in the area, especially on weekend nights?
    You are actually the 2nd person to comment on this to me this week.  I know there are some plain clothed officers that are down there as well.  I can’t speak to the specifics as to why the officers are staying in the squad, but I am forward this comment to the police department.
    Are the police enforcing current laws regarding public urination, littering, public intoxication, underage drinking, smoking too close to building entrances and other minor crimes that are causing “quality of life” problems for the rest of us who use the downtown?  Can you share metrics for this type of enforcement? Are the existing laws effective?  Are new laws needed to deal with issues specific to our downtown district?
    I know that one of the issues we have had is that our ordinances were not clear enough to allow for easy enforcement.  We recently changed some ordinances to make enforcement easier.  I believe that we are also considering forcing bars to stay open past last call as that has led to the public urination issues.  The police will typically cite these issues if they see them.  There is a downtown safe and clean task force that is making recommendations to us as well.

    Does the Council have the power to limit business hours for the downtown bars?  Could liquor sales/consumption be suspended an hour early?  This could allow crowds to disperse in a more orderly way. With no late night public transit, and only a handful of cabs available, there are few choices for responsible folks who choose to take a safe ride home after a night out.

    Yes we do have that power.  Liquor could be stopped early, but more likely we would ask bars to stay open an hour past last call.

    If you have been in Kathy’s or Dooley’s late at night, it is clear that these establishments are filled well beyond posted occupancy limits. This creates a dangerous situation for the crowd in the case of a fire or a violent incident.  There are not enough exits for the number of customers inside and this creates a potential disaster.  What actions have the Fire Department taken to survey these establishments during peak occupancy hours?

    I have done a few late night “research” projects.  I am not sure what the occupancy is, but I think Dooley’s is huge.  I will relay this comment to the Fire Marshall.  Those occupancy limits have to be respected for public safety reasons.
    Does the City have a plan in place to mitigate the very public problems caused by a few rowdy patrons and a few businesses that are setting a bad example for a lot of folks who want to go out, and have a good time?
    We are pushing the safe bars program very hard and our police are writing more and more disorderly citations.  If someone is trespassed from 1 safe bar the are from them all.
    I have concerns that future downtown development will be limited due to the reputation that downtown is getting for being drunk and dangerous.  Thanks for listening to my concerns and following up on my questions.

    Thanks for the note and your support [NAME REMOVED].  The future of Rochester is downtown, so we need to do it right.  Please keep me informed on what you see.

    Michael

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  • 22Nov

    This was a somewhat insulting note complete with threat, here it is unedited:

    every politician loves to say , their doing it in other cities our size and it’s working? Wellthere is a whole lot that us regular folk can point out that they are or are not doing also??? Do all 14 of these cities have a 1/2 percent sales tax? Well this city won’t either come next year, enjoy YOUR civic center.

    Here was my response.  As I have said we are not the state or federal government, we actually have to pass real budgets and make real choices.  Often we suffer consequences from legislative failures, like LGA and other cuts.  As such we have to be pragmatic and actually make tough decisions.

    Pat,

    Many of these municipalities have a local option sales taxes greater than 0.5%.  I believe that some are at least as high as 1.5%.  Any way you cut it Rochester’s total is in line with similar communities.  This is even more impressive because in most states the total sales tax is lower but covers more items.  Our narrower sales tax is higher for the things that it covers like hotel stays.  If you doubt the accuracy of anything that I have said, I encourage you to check it out.

    http://www.votewojcik.org/?p=1455
    http://www.votewojcik.org/?p=1451

    I believe that most of our citizens will be more level headed in their approach to funding their community.  Just take a look at the projects that are on the list, there are some that might not be done like the Senior Center / Recreation Center or STEM academy, but many like the transportation projects, sewer projects, and downtown improvements will be done regardless.  As such we will be deciding if we want to pay 100% of this through our property taxes or much less through our sales tax.  Most of us care about having a great community with great amenities.  That is why MN voted so overwhelmingly to support our legacy amendment.  I believe that is why this will succeed.

    I found your note to be condescending and am particularly surprised that you would use your business account for this type of activity.  I will stick to the facts and do my best to minimize tax burden on those I represent.

    Michael

     

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  • 18May

    There has been a lot of interest in this topic so I wanted to provide some additional thoughts on this topic.  Here is a note that I received.  As is always the case I respond to every policy related question or comment sent to me.  Here is most of the note: Read more…

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  • 30Nov

    Trust me when I heard this I was probably as upset as the owner.  Turns out there is was a good explanation.  Thanks to Dale Martinson for supplying that answer.  I removed the name of the property owner because I respect the privacy of my citizens. Read more…

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  • 22Nov

    Question from Dorothy:

    What are the ramifications of sewer connections – from the home to the city sewer? Read more…

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  • 14Nov

    Question:

    Hi my husband and I were talking about this [street tree ordinance] and were wondering if this would mean planting trees under the powerlines, so they would need to be trimed later when the grow into them. Read more…

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  • 20Oct

    I am going to try to occasionally add some information about questions that I receive along with my answers.  I know that even when I can’t give a good answer a response is still appreciated.  Unfortunately, I have heard far too many stories of elected officials not responding.  At the local level there is no excuse for that. Hear is a question about leaf pickup.

    Read more…

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