Minnetrista’s road assessment policy is to assess property owners along a project route (gravel to paved or for reconstruction) 50% of the project cost with the remaining 50% paid by the city. The Sunnyfield Road reconstruction planned this year has only one property owner along the route, the Westonka School District. Mayor Whalen, at the council’s work session last night, thought they should get a break. She suggested only assessing them 20%.
Of course it couldn’t possibly be because members of the school board and Westonka School’s Superintendent were instrumental in her reelection (view story here). Maybe it’s because Whalen thinks Minnetrista residential property owners should be assessed more than a school district with a budget almost ten times that of the city and a much larger tax base over which to spread the cost? Or perhaps she doesn’t realize that school bus traffic and student/parent traffic are largely responsible for the road’s condition and much of that traffic comes from outside Minnetrista.
Yes, there have been exceptions to the city’s assessment rate on a few occasions in areas with low density but the majority of Minnetrista’s road projects are assessed at 50%. That is policy.
Both council members Reffkin and MacGregor responded to Whalen’s suggestion to lower the rate for the school with their opinion that the 50% policy should stand. Whalen kept pressing for her school district friends as council members Mortenson and Tschumperlin remained silent, ostensibly gauging the political wind direction. MacGregor finally proposed 40% in the spirit of compromise and Reffkin supported that although somewhat reluctantly.
Mortenson and Tschumperlin saw the compromise as palatable and indicated they could “probably” support it but Whalen kept pushing for her friends. She then said “What about 35%? Would any of you support 35%?” Ultimately Whalen’s valiant effort went unrewarded and the 40% rate prevailed for the school.
Got to give Whalen credit for standing up for her friends if not for Minnetrista taxpayers. Readers can listen to the recorded January 19 work session.
There are few topics more agitative in rural Minnetrista than internet service, especially now that its become a necessity for most of us to function at work, school, purchase goods and services or conduct business of any kind. It is an infrastructure as necessary as roads, water and sewer but isn’t seen that way by many rural cities and townships.
If the roads are blocked by an accident, snow, or natural disaster the city will rush resources to clear the roads but if internet services go down it’s not their concern. It should be. Access to high-speed internet is at the top of most home buyer’s lists these days and property values in Minnetrista will reflect that. Having a vibrant real estate market is important to the city’s financial health.
If potential buyers happen to check out social media sites like Nextdoor.com, however, they will find pages and pages of complaints about slow speeds, unreliable connections and nonexistent customer service from major providers in Minnetrista and surrounding area.
I’m hoping the discussion Tuesday night focuses on proactive things the city can do like removing obstacles to entry for internet service providers, establishing a fund as we’ve done for road maintenance to finance this critical infrastructure, and having a staff person attend the virtual meetings of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force to stay up to speed on the resources they offer rural areas. Inviting providers to Minnetrista without making changes to how we do business with them will not result in better internet services for anyone.
Hiring a consultant may sound like a great idea but many consultants have loyalties to specific providers or technologies and ferreting out those biases can be a challenge if you’re an outsider. Minnetrista would do well to find some savvy residents to help it in this endeavor if they really want to get something done. But that’s the question, do they?
Residents may download the work session packet for Tuesday night’s discussion and listen in by calling (872) 240-3412 and enter meeting Access Code 711-795-981 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/711795981
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There was a notice sent to Minnetrista residents affected by the 2021 local street improvements indicating a public hearing at last night’s council meeting but the notice didn’t have the correct access numbers and residents will be notified of another opportunity to attend a hearing in front of the city council, most likely the next scheduled meeting on January 19.
Residents can find call in numbers to all council work sessions and meetings in the council agendas and packets available here for 2021. Audio recordings of the meetings are also found there as well.
Last night, after interviewing candidates for openings on Minnetrista’s Parks Commission and Planning Commission, the city council made the following appointments:
Parks Commission (three year terms):
Sarah Hussain, Parks Commission (incumbent)
Hal Goldstein, Alternate #1 Parks Commission
Nancy Richeson, Alternate #2 Parks Commission
Planning Commission (four year terms):
Damian Young, Planning Commission (incumbent)
John Sturgess, Planning Commission
Candidate applications were provided in the council’s work session packet starting on page 2. The Parks Commission appointments vote was unanimous (5-0) but the Planning Commission vote on Mr. Young’s appointment was not with one dissenting vote (4-1), but a unanimous (5-0) vote on Mr. Sturgess.
Sarah Hussain, incumbent candidate for the Parks Commission, and Andrew Beitler, candidate for the Parks Commission were not present for the interviews.
Newly elected Council Member Cathleen Reffkin expressed concern over the fact that both incumbent Planning Commission members, Damian Young and Robert Rabin, recently voted to recommend approval of the ground mounted solar farm application on CR92 which residents widely opposed. That, she suggested, indicated the Planning Commission needs new commissioners more aligned with residents.
Monday night will be a first for Minnetrista. For the first time city residents interested in serving on one of the city’s commissions will actually have an opportunity to compete for those seats against incumbents that have already served.
In the past the city council automatically reappointed any commission member that wished to serve another term after their term had expired, without notifying residents of the opportunity to apply for the expiring seat. That all changed during a heated council meeting on December 7 where the practice was exposed and criticized for shutting out resident involvement on the city’s Parks and Planning Commissions.
The reason given for not advertising the openings in the past had been these volunteer positions had been difficult to fill and when someone had served and was willing to continue it was best to hang onto them. Somehow, however, the commission seats were almost always full and when a vacancy occurred it was quickly filled.
The city received 8 applications for the 5 commission assignments: 1 vacant seat and 2 alternate seats for the Parks Commission; and 2 vacant seats for the Planning Commission. Candidates and their applications are listed (starting on page 2) in the council’s work session agenda for Monday night. Applicant names are below (*incumbent):
Andrew Beitler (Parks Commission)
Hal Goldstein (Parks or Planning Commission)
*Sarah Hussain (Parks Commission)
*Robert Rabin (Planning Commission)
Nancy Richeson (Parks Commission)
Paul Stone (Planning Commission)
John Sturgess (Planning Commission)
*Damian Young (Planning Commission)
It will be interesting to see if Monday’s interviews are just a pretense of fairness or if these new applicants actually have a chance at taking an incumbent’s commission seat. There are only 3 incumbents and 5 seats to fill so by default there will be at least two new appointees. I have a feeling at least one of them, Hal Goldstein, will be appointed because he was apparently recruited and applied back in October before there were even any openings. You can read about that here.
There are some impressive resumes from some of these applicants and I hope they are legitimately evaluated for what they have to offer the city. Minnetrista needs commissioners that think for themselves, have a genuine interest in city planning and will do the research and work to make good, reliable recommendations to the council.