• 24Aug

    This report is jaw dropping. I agree with it nearly 100%, but wow…

    This is not an indictment on the staff at planning, I continue to believe that most of them are outstanding. This is an issue with leadership, principally at the board and administration levels. The county is at fault for failing to meet community needs, the city is at fault for not realizing how bad things have gotten.

    We now have outdated plans, a severely understaffed department, missing many key skill sets, and a $1.4 billion liability in street maintenance with no real plan to address it. I support smart growth, I despise dumb growth. We have principally been doing dumb growth. While our population doubled our footprint increased 5 fold. This is doing less with more infrastructure.

    Years of advocacy by myself and others has finally resulted in updating many of these plans, but great harm has been done and continues to be done. Staff can’t even answer the simple question I pose frequently: will this development pay for itself over time. Most the time the answer has be “no.” Destination Medical Center Staff have been a BIG help in assisting these shortcomings.

    Again, this is not an indictment on planning staff, but here is the brutal truth.


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  • 10Aug

    Sprawl is really expensive as it turns out. We are close to the geographical size of Minneapolis with less than 1/3 of the population. Who do we expect is going to pay for all that infrastructure?

    After 8 years of prodding, staff finally reported on how far we are behind in maintaining our road infrastructure. While I am a passionate environmentalist (this is my favorite planet), sustainability is equally about financial responsibility.

    If we do nothing (which has been what the city has done for the last 8 years) we will lose our ability to fund public safety, transit, parks, library, arts, and everything else that the city does.

    Here is that report.

    What it says that is that we built roads that require 31.9 million annually to maintain. We currently pay $9 million annually, leaving a $22.9 million gap. Further we have built up maintenance needs of about $235 million. Using some basic finance to calculate our current unfunded liability over 50 years, I calculate an unfunded liability of about $1.4 Billion dollars.

    What does this mean? Over the next 50 years we have $1.4 Billion more in expenses than revenues to pay for it (in today’s dollars).

    If we were to immediately close the annual gap that would mean a 40% tax increase for all tax paying properties in Rochester. Ouch..

    NPV Streets Liability photo Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 1.47.58 PM_zpsig6riccl.png

    What do we have to do to fix this? Probably many things.

    1. Quit digging the hole bigger. Do not accept new roads as public infrastructure unless we are relatively certain they will generate more in tax revenues than costs. This is actually pretty easy, just look at Fox Hill Villas, 30 new singly family homes but the road is private. We have a few leaders in particular have kept digging the hole bigger.
    2. Start chipping away at the costs. While I don’t want a 40% tax increase we need to put more money into maintaining what we already have. I suggested a longer term plan of increasing road funding by a couple million a year over 10 years. That is still a big tax increase, but it is spread out over time and hopefully over more payers.
    3. Smart Growth. Do Projects like the uptown project that increases property values, density, and tax collections. There will be a future post on just how successful the Uptown project has been in terms of increasing values beyond what is happening elsewhere in the community. The means more revenue coming in to maintain that same quantity of road (even after figuring in the added costs that made that area so attractive).
    4. Stop unnecessary degradation. A top state expert on road maintenance explained to the city council on Monday how reducing the number of garbage haulers in the roads would reduce premature road expenses to the city by millions of dollars annually. A similar move in Bloomington is projected to save residents an addition $13 million over the next 5 years just on their bills. But do we have the courage to do it?
    5. Street Utilities. Nonprofits don’t pay property taxes and don’t help pay for roads. Further commercial properties pay excess taxes to help subsidize residential properties in Minnesota. A utility would allow us to pay for some or all of road maintenance with a fee on adjacent properties. This is far more fair & equitable, but requires state action. This option is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities & Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

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  • 21Nov

    Rochester is not broke, actually far from it, but we will be facing tremendous tax increases if we don’t clean up our act. Small businesses will continue to get smacked with disproportionate tax increases if city leaders continue to allow and even subsidize sprawl. Right now Rochester’s fiscal policy when it comes to housing development is: “lose money on every one and make it up in volume…”


    We tend to think that broke cities have two options: raise taxes, or cut services. Minicozzi, though, is trying to point to the basic but long-buried math of our tax system that cities should be exploiting instead: Per-acre, our downtowns have the potential to generate so much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. And for all that revenue they bring in, downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.

    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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  • 17Sep

    This is hands down the most important planning activity for the future of Rochester. The consultants leading the project described this as the best and most thorough planning effort they had ever been involved with. They expect that this will be an award winning project. Here is the update we received.

    P2S Update Document

    In general we are studying 3 scenarios:

    1. Continued suburban sprawl
    2. Significant infill along major corridors and nodes
    3. Major high density nodes south of downtown & near IBM.

    What is different about this study is that we are seriously looking at the consequences of our decision. Today a few council members simultaneously can’t fund the costs associated with sprawl and deny sprawl is a problem. In considering these scenarios we will also consider.

    1. Our ability to deliver services including transit
    2. Cost of land development in different areas
    3. Financial impacts on the budget, especially public infrastructure
    4. Impacts on energy and environment.

    My hope is that when present with the likely data, 4 council members will vote to end the sprawl.

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  • 07Mar

    This was an outstanding session with good data and examples. I am sharing the materials we used they are a good read for my fellow nerd friends.

    Part 1: NLC University Transportation Planning 1

    Part 2: NLC University Transportation Planning 2 – This is the one that I found incredibly interesting and valuable.

    Part 3: NLC University Transportation Planning 3

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  • 11Aug

    A disclaimer to begin, data is never perfect especially when if comes to crime.  If the community has a total of 1 crime and you are the victim, its bad.  There has never been a crime rate of 0 thought that would be nice.  It is important that we have a police presence that can adequately respond to crime.  The tricky part is balance the substantial cost of adding police officers to with the substantial cost of putting services and amenities in place that serve to prevent crime such as libraries, parks, affordable housing, transit and social services.

    I was alarmed when I heard that the average response time to a Type 1 (most serious) crime was now over 7 minutes.  As a person that is driven by data I wanted to better understand if the issue was that we have too much serious crime for our number of officers, if the community design (sprawl) was adding too much to response times, or both.  Based on comparisons to peer cities I think that our sprawl might be a major issue. Read more…

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  • 15Jun

    Rochester is beginning to be recognized as one the the top envirnmental cities in the upper midwest.  With the notable exception of the suburban sprawl issue where we are close to failing.

    This award recognizes the near perfection at our water treatment plant.

    Dear David,

    It gives me great pleasure to inform you that City of Rochester’s Water Reclamation Plant has earned a NACWA Platinum Peak Performance Award for 13 years of consecutive 100% NPDES permit compliance.  Congratulations on receiving this significant accomplishment.

    As a multi-yearPlatinum honoree, your facilities will be recognized in a video presentation during the Tuesday, July 16th Awards Ceremony atNACWA’s Summer Conference & 43rd Annual Meeting, being held in Cincinnati, Ohio.

    We are encouraging all Platinum-winning facilities to submit a high resolution, digital photo of their award-winning facility or its hard-working staff to potentially be included in this special presentation.  Photos of individual staff performing their job, group shots of plant staff, and facility photos are welcome. Please send photos to Christian Howard at choward@nacwa.org by June 21, 2013.

    Please contact me directly atkbrocato@nacwa.org or 202-833-1449 if you have any questions.

    Again, congratulations to you and all of the City of Rochester’s employees on a job well done.



    Kelly A. Brocato, CAE| National Association of Clean Water Agencies | Director, Membership Development | 202/833-1449 |kbrocato@nacwa.org

    NACWA has a clear commitment to America’s waters- Visit us atwww.nacwa.org and see!

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  • 18Apr

    I have just about beaten this thing to death, here are some new thoughts.

    Tina pays taxes in Rochester and I think that she is bothered by the potential of wasting $5 million, that she took action.  She did so knowing full well that this would be unpopular.  I think her actual bill is a good compromise because it draws attention, but is unlikely change the end result.

    “What I am doing here is letting the city council make the decision. If I was on the city council, I would vote no. But I think that’s a decision that they, as local officials, should be making,” she said.

    Second, If I represented Stewartville I would handle this very differently.  I took an oath to work for Rochester, allowing the wasting of money on foolish projects is violation of that oath.  If I represented Stewartville, or if Tina did, comments would likely be different.

    Third, the hypocrisy of the Chamber of Commerce who refused to stand with Rochester when the state cut promised LGA to Rochester suddenly getting religion on the state keeping promises is disappointing.  The argument that proposed uses are within the law ignores the fact that no laws exist, because this was a maneuver by Greg Davids at the last minute.  No one ever considered this, so no real laws exist.  As I stated before the Chamber’s policy is pro-sprawl, pro-developer subsidy, and pro-redistributionism.

    Forth, I am less concerned about sharing the dollars than I am about the dollars being wasted.  Stewartville’s builder / developer giveaway is the perfect example of using public dollars to benefit a few individuals with no net regional benefit.  I wish this proposed law required all projects to create net region wide economic development and prevented competition between cities sharing this money.

    Fifth, I will track how all $5 million is spent, thus far Pine Island and Stewartville are proposing wasteful spending.  Kasson on the other hand in contributing a similar amount to DMC.  I hope that most of this money is not wasted.  I would ask every community to ask them selves, is our proposed use better or worse than DMC.  If they can not create proposals that are superior to DMC, they should support that instead.

    Edit:  whew… spell check is working again, that was scary…

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