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:
“There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.” – Benjamin Disrael
Local governments want more of your money but they want you to hand it over without a fight so they pull out statistics to convince taxpayers to open their wallets. Here are just a few things to look for to see if you’re being manipulated by the numbers.
Omissions: Leaving out something significant that, if known, would lead the reader to a different conclusion from the data presented:
- When a city, in an attempt to waylay fears of a tax increase, says their tax rate has stayed the same or is lower than it was before but neglects to reveal that your property valuation has increased substantially and, therefore, the amount you pay is going up.
- When the city tells you residents are willing to accept a property tax increase for road maintenance without telling you that 64% of Minnetrista residents indicated they opposed any property tax increase for roads in the community survey (see below).
Using percentages from a small sample size: When a survey uses an insignificant sample size, percentages will always be misleading:
Minnetrista’s community survey asks respondents if they would favor or oppose an increase in property taxes for city street repair/maintenance and 64% said they’d oppose an increase. A very small number (128 people out of 7,000 city residents) indicated they’d favor an increase. That subset of respondents (128 people) was questioned to see how much more they’d be willing to pay. When they indicated various amounts ($5-$30/mo) it was then repeated over and over again that, according to the community survey, the majority of people (which was actually just 118 people: 92% of the 128) are willing to accept an increase in their city property taxes for roads, when, in fact, 64% surveyed said they were opposed. Starting to get the picture of how this works?
Faulty polling: How questions are phrased can influence responses dramatically. A deceptive polling strategy is to precede a question with a narrative designed to prejudice the response or to omit (see above) important data qualifiers. The examples below use a combination of both omission and faulty polling strategies:
- Minnetrista’s community survey precedes a question (#49) about whether or not the city should build a gun range saying “there is an unfinished gun range” and “if finished” it would be used by residents. Communicating something as “unfinished” implies that it has been started (which it has not) but not completed and influences a positive response since people generally are averse to leaving things “unfinished”. The truth of the matter is there is empty space with nothing in it that could be built out as a gun range. This survey question also omitted the fact there would be significant, ongoing annual operational and maintenance costs that will increase residents’ taxes over and above the build out costs. Had that been revealed and the phrasing less biased, the responses would likely have been much different. Even so there was little support to use tax dollars to fund the build out, and one would assume no support for tax dollars to fund the maintenance (if they had been aware of it).
- This one is my favorite: This survey question precedes another (74) regarding the approval rating of the Mayor and Council with a question that reveals the majority of respondents know “very little” to “nothing at all” about the work of the Mayor and Council but then goes on to ask if they approve or disapprove of the job the Mayor and Council are doing. Remember that next time you hear about the council’s 80% approval rating. Apparently ignorance is bliss.
Community surveys are merely vehicles designed to justify tax increases and reelect incumbents that support them.
Exactly one year ago I wrote a post titled “Who is Our Minnetrista?” Little did I know what would be exposed over the course of the next 12 months. I only knew something was amiss but had no idea of the corruption, deception, and stronghold this group of people holds on our community until I filed a civil suit last November and began the discovery process which culminated in a ruling that held they had “corrupted the political process” in both the 2014 and 2018 elections and their leaders and candidates were fined.
Here is what I know now. The corruption isn’t limited to our mayor and a couple of council members (who all still sit on the council, btw). There are school board members who have been actively supporting this group with financial contributions and helping them recruit public officials to maintain their current power structure and taxing authority. There are also political committees like “YesWestonka” comprised of virtually the same people as “Our Minnetrista” whose goal to pass a $22M school bond referendum was successful primarily because they held the election in May instead of the November general election knowing a low voter turnout would benefit the measure. Now they have another referendum up for a vote in November 2019, not a general election either. Hmm.
I’ve also learned that the DFL is involved in this group with the DFL Senate District Chair being a financial contributor to the rogue “Our Minnetrista” political committee as well as a contributor to the campaign of the spouse of Westonka school board member Heidi Marty in his bid for election to the MN House of Representatives (D-Todd Mikkelson). This is one close-knit, happy family.
Is it any wonder, then, when the Westonka School District was invoiced for the Minnetrista mayor’s campaign mailings (apparently to avoid paying sales tax like her opponent had to) that the Westonka school district said nothing?
This last year has exposed the fact that a small group of people with vested interests in controlling millions of dollars of public funds in our community are doing just that. They consist of DFL leadership, school board members, elected public officials, ex-city employees, and political committees backing their initiatives that somehow always end in tax increases.
That’s how much more someone with a $500K market valuation will pay annually if the revenue referendums proposed by Watertown School District pass in November:
Westonka Schools also have a revenue referendum increasing school spending coming up for a vote November 5 as well. A $500K property would see an annual increase of approximately $121 in that district if it passes.
Both referendums provide for annual inflationary increases for the next ten years.
Watertown School District Voting:
Westonka School District Voting:
More information on both school districts’ referendums:
Watertown School District’s referendums
Westonka School District referendum
Monday was a long night for the city council with a full and challenging agenda. Unfortunately for Minnetrista taxpayers the council chose to adopt (4 to 1) the highest increase (5.87%) presented by staff for the 2020 preliminary tax levy, despite having hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been sitting in unused special funds for years with no foreseeable liabilities against them. We continue to raise taxes and debt while cannibalizing our fund reserves, all the while having access to these public funds which, in my opinion, belong in our general fund reserves to give an accurate view of the city’s balance sheet. If the city needs to buy trees we can budget for them. If the city needs to purchase additional emergency sirens we can budget for them. Setting up “special funds” keeps this money out of the public’s view and, more importantly, out of the general fund and gives a distorted view of the city’s finances, which is used to justify tax increases year after year.
The preliminary levy increase may be lowered before the final levy adoption in December but it cannot increase any higher. December 2, 2019 was the date set last night for public comment on the 2020 final levy adoption. You’ll hear some council members defend their votes citing that the preliminary increase was reduced last year before the final levy was adopted. What you won’t be told is that it was done without cutting a single penny of spending and irresponsibly dipping into our general fund reserves.
The city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan was on the agenda for final approval Monday night. I had some serious concerns about it noted here having to do with private wells, GreenStep Cities, inaccurate numbers projecting future water demand, and making commitments to revise or adopt future ordinances without the council having access to the wording of these ordinances. Council agreed to bring the plan back to a work session in October for discussion.
We all know Minnesota is a high taxed state. You’ll hear from city officials trying to pass their preliminary tax levy increases that your taxes paid to the city are just a small fraction of what goes to the county and school district. To that I say “So what?” They are ALL going up, ALL the time, EVERY year and those increases never go away. The compounded effect is driving people out of Minnesota to lower taxed states.
Remember this when the city of Minnetrista passes a 5.87% preliminary tax levy increase at the next council meeting on September 3.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume the city’s *preliminary tax levy is not the most riveting topic of conversation at your dinner table. But what if you knew that you and your fellow Minnetrista taxpayers had socked away hundreds of thousands of dollars in an account, money that has been sitting there for years without any liabilities against it and none foreseeable, that could lower your city property taxes? Would that get your attention? It got mine.
Every year we’re given options from staff to increase the city’s budget. We are a growing city and that’s fine but increasing the city’s budget doesn’t necessarily have to translate into raising YOUR taxes. Growth should be providing the necessary dollars to keep city services humming along. This year the preliminary tax levy options from staff are a 5.87% increase or a 4.22% increase. The growth in the city’s market valuation from new construction this past year has only been 2.5%
So why, one may ask, if we’ve only grown by 2.5%, do we need to increase the city’s budget by more than that? At our Work session Monday night all council members except one indicated support for the higher 5.87% increase.
If you ask why they’ll say roads are the reason. Keep in mind we increased our roads budget 36% last year and 40% the year before. If we adopt the higher preliminary tax levy it would increase the road budget another 26% in 2020. These are extraordinary increases when our growth is in the lower single digits.
Anyone that doesn’t go along with the highest increase is accused of “kicking the can down the road” and doesn’t care about Minnetrista’s infrastructure. That’s an interesting statement given the fact our own city engineer’s report, rating Minnetrista’s roads, shows the vast majority of them are in “good-excellent” condition.
I argued we could choose the lower, 4.2% increase, which would still increase our road fund by 10.5% and add another $75K to the road fund by taking $75,000 out of the “Tree Fund,” (referenced above) which has a balance of over $367K in it, to achieve the same results to our Road Fund as the higher levy increase without placing the burden on the taxpayer. The answer was a resounding No.
Council is poised to adopt the 5.87% increase at our September 3 council meeting.
*Preliminary tax levy is set by September 30 and taxpayers are sent notices estimating next year’s taxes based on this. The actual tax levy adopted for 2020 may be lower but cannot exceed the preliminary tax levy.