Minnetrista city election – why care?

I’ve been meeting with residents in Minnetrista neighborhoods over the last several weeks and invariably someone always asks “What’s so important about this year’s city election?” The answer: Outside interests are running the city and none of them live or pay taxes here in Minnetrista. Outside consultants, contractors, vendors and organizations put pressure on the council to serve their interests ahead of yours. money electionsConsequently, taxes go up every year and will continue at an even faster pace going forward. We are growing and have important decisions coming up next year that impact your property rights, taxes, fees and freedoms.

I am also hearing from residents frustrated in their dealings with the city as they seek permits, variances, or access to information. Rather than having an excellent experience they often leave irritated and angry. Instilling a service oriented culture at city hall is important for residents to be treated with respect and for staff to understand their purpose is to serve the community. Unlike private sector businesses that know their survival depends on treating customers well, public sector organizations can become complacent knowing their “customer” has nowhere else to go.

The November election in Minnetrista is of paramount importance to every Minnetrista resident. Unlike the national elections where partisan politics divide the country, every Minnetrista resident can agree that outside interests should not continue running our city and public servants should treat residents with the respect they deserve.

 

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Exposure to light affects growth

Exposure to light affects growth…in government and taxes. I was concerned when I heard the retirement of Mound’s annual bond payment of $282,000 on their city hall building, which was coming to an end in 2022, was referred to as a “windfall” and conversations ensued around how to spend that money after the building was paid off (see previous post “Windfall dilemma” here).

abstract beach bright clouds

As you may know Minnetrista pays approximately $75,000 annually toward Mound’s bond payment (Minnetrista contracts with Mound for fire services) and has done so since 2004 and will have paid over $1.3 million by the end of 2022.

I asked for this matter to be put on a Minnetrista city council agenda. My belief was, and is, that Minnetrista’s $75K annual payment should stop once the bond is retired. Period. Under no circumstances is it reasonable to support bundling this $75K payment into our annual contract for services or to let it continue being used past 2022 for anything other than what it was originally intended. If there are other things Mound Fire needs in the future, i.e., new fire trucks, apparatus, radios, or administrative costs, those items should be budgeted just like anything else, justified and allocated to the cities they contract with.

My request for the agenda item was granted and staff invited Mound’s Fire Chief to present to the council before our work session discussion.

Although it was a challenge to get the discussion focused on my primary concern it eventually was and I was pleased to find support from other council members that agreed conversations about what to do with this “windfall” shouldn’t be entertained.

 

 

 

 

Let’s be honest

The Laker article below was 100% blatantly false, yet after more than two weeks and requests for a correction The Laker hadn’t corrected it. Minnetrista, as we all know from examining our property tax bills, has had a tax levy increase every year since 2012 except one. This article states, no less than four times, that this is the first levy increase since 2012.

Laker Dec 21 Article

I wrote about the misinformation when it was discovered here on December 21 and learned that the reporter had been in contact with city staff as she developed the story. What the city put out to the public, and the reporter, was that this was the “first general fund levy increase since 2012,” which is a misleading statement designed to obfuscate the fact that, in reality, there has actually been a tax levy increase every year since 2012 except one.

Is it any wonder the reporter fell prey to the obfuscation?

What most people don’t know is there are several funds, other than the “general fund,” included in the tax levy. There is a debt fund, a road maintenance fund, and a CIP levy that, in addition to the general fund levy, comprise the taxable levy. This article leads readers to believe they are long overdue for higher taxes and takes advantage of their not understanding the complexities of the municipal tax levy.

Interestingly, the day after the January 6 council meeting above the Laker posted a story actually perpetuating the misinformation saying “Next year’s levy increase is the first increase to the general fund in eight years” without addressing the blatantly false statement made in their December headline above.

You can watch the entire January 6, 2020 Minnetrista council meeting here.

Correction: In the video clip above I misspoke saying “We have residents believing there was no levy increase this year” when I meant to say “We have residents believing there has been no levy increase for years.” My apologies.

First levy increase since 2012?! I don’t think so

Laker Dec 21 ArticleI blogged about the misuse of statistics back in October and how omitting information, leaving out something significant that, if known, would lead the reader/listener to a different conclusion from what was presented, could manipulate residents. Well, today our favorite local newspaper, The Laker, has been manipulated. But don’t blame the reporter. She was only reporting what she had read on the city’s slide presented at the December 2 public hearing on the 2020 levy increase which said:

“General Fund levy has not been increased since 2012 and had decreased from 2010 before that”

Somehow the reporter got the idea, from the statement above, that the tax levy in Minnetrista hadn’t gone up in eight years. Hmm, I wonder if residents in Minnetrista think the same thing. Anyone familiar with Minnetrista’s tax levy history knows there has been a tax levy increase almost every year since 2012 and we got another whopper 5.66% increase this year.

The byline in the December 21 story on page 18 states “Final levy close to that submitted in September, first increase since 2012” (Emphasis added). Oops, someone actually printed what they were told, and in a very public way. It’s always been okay to mislead people as long as it was done quietly, but headlines advertising the deception are another matter. The reporter was quickly contacted by the city and told to correct the online story and reminded that she should have run the story by the city.

How would a regular citizen interpret this slide?General Fun levy has not increased

Note also how the slide says “Staff is proposing an option reducing the net preliminary tax levy increase….” instead of the reality of staff proposing a 5.66% increase, which, by the way, was adopted on a 4-1 vote (Bruce dissenting).

So what was missing from this slide and why did the reporter need to correct the story? First, there are several funds, other than the “general fund,” included in the tax levy. There is a debt fund, a road maintenance fund, and a CIP levy that, in addition to the general fund levy, comprise the taxable levy. Most people don’t know that and the only reason this statement was on this slide is to take advantage of the fact that most people don’t know that.

Bottom line is the city of Minnetrista wants more of your money but they want you to hand it over without complaining. To do that requires manipulation of the facts and they are very good at that.

 

“Windfall” dilemma?

Would you keep remitting payments to the bank once your mortgage is paid off? Of course not. This seems to be a dilemma, however, for the city of Minnetrista that has been making payments to the city of Mound for the bond taken out in 2004 to pay for their municipal building/fire station. Minnetrista contracts with Mound for fire services and, along with the other cities Mound fire supports, has been paying $68K annually to help them pay off the bond. The bond will be retired in 2022. Here’s the brief discussion from our meeting December 2:

 

Mound fire youtube discussion
Discussion of $68K “windfall” to city of Mound

 

5.66% Increase in Minnetrista’s final tax levy for 2020

Minnetrista’s city council passed the final 2020 tax levy Monday night, increasing the levy 5.66% from the previous year, on a 4-1 vote. At our work session prior to the meeting I asked the council to consider using the unanticipated higher revenue from the city’s building permits to off-set the levy increase but the answer was a unanimous no. Despite a 43% general fund reserve (healthy by any standard) the council chose to apply the savings to the general fund reserve increasing it to 47%. I was the dissenting vote on the motion to pass the levy increase.

There are other reasons I dissented. Minnetrista has a backwards budgeting process where staff essentially submits a budget to the council and the council usually approves it without much modification. Generally we are given two or three budget options with varying increases (I’ve never seen an option without an increase that is far above our growth rate even considering inflation) and the council chooses one of the options as the preliminary tax levy in September and then adopts the final levy in December, which may vary slightly when year end projections are more certain.

In the private sector, as in many cities throughout the country, the budgeting process is different and begins with submitting the prior year’s budget and then justifying the increases, line by line, before adoption. That has not been the process in Minnetrista and there has been considerable resistance to the idea that it should be. How else can the council responsibly vote to support a tax levy if it doesn’t know what the justifications are behind all the increases? I’d like to see a budget committee comprised of two council members established to do this.

The budgeting process in Minnetrista needs to start out assuming every line-item increase, which isn’t just inflationary, needs justification. Until that happens I will be voting no, as I have in the past, on the city’s tax levy.

 

Minnetrista: $$$ Vote Tuesday!

You wouldn’t buy a car from merely reading the manufacturer’s ads would you? If you live in Minnetrista in either the Mound Westonka or Watertown school district there is a very important vote on Tuesday: $Millions of dollars in school referendums that will impact you and your community for the next decade and beyond. I urge everyone to get information from sources other than the school districts promoting the referendums.  These referendums are intentionally held in non-election years counting on low voter turnouts. Here is where you can vote on Tuesday, November 5:

WhereToVote