Preliminary tax levy increased 5.87% and 2040 Comp Plan to come back for study

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 special fundswhile 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.

 

MN is 6th worst state in the nation for per capita state and local income taxes

Percapita state and local taxesWe 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.

“Keep it Rural Minnetrista” Elroy Balgaard for City Council video

The slogan “Keep it Rural” resonates with the people I’ve been talking with, even those living in the more densely populated Minnetrista housing developments. I was in Hunters Crest yesterday and many of those homes border beautiful marshes and prairies that residents cherish and want preserved.

City Council members have the authority to approve Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) in areas outside the MUSA line that are zoned “Rural” as well as “Urban Reserve” that could drastically change the entire landscape of Minnetrista. Make sure you vote for someone who will not support higher density PUDs than current primary zoning allows in these areas. In the 2040 Comp Plan there is something called “Limited Secondary Zoning” that essentially allows higher density in these zones if the council deems it appropriate. It’s important who you vote for.

Minnetrista preliminary tax increase highest of all surrounding cities

I attended the League of Women Voters city council candidate forum at Minnetrista city hall Thursday night. Once the video is available I’ll post it and give a recap. For now just wanted to post some information city council candidate Elroy Balgaard shared that night on the surrounding communities and how their preliminary tax levy changes compare to Minnetrista’s.2019 surrounding cities preliminary leviesThis information didn’t go over well with the incumbents who asserted these communities can’t be compared but it should be noted that the city of Orono is quite comparable to Minnetrista in size and growth yet their increase is 40% lower than Minnetrista’s. Yes, there’s always a chance preliminary tax levies may come down before they are adopted in December but I’d be shocked if Minnetrista’s increase came down to even Wayzata’s at 4.29%.

Minnetrista grew 2.5% last year. Why do we need a 6.01% budget increase to pay for that?

Even though there will be a public hearing on December 3, the Minnetrista final 2019 tax levy will most likely, given history, be adopted without change that same evening and the public hearing is not likely to influence that. Sort of makes one wonder what the point is of having a public hearing.

“A Drop in the Bucket”?

“A DROP IN THE BUCKET”? The Minnetrista City Administrator thinks an estimate, provided by a frequently used engineering vendor, that is more than 60% higher than it should be is just “a drop in the bucket” when considering the total cost of a potential water project ($2.3M) in Hunters Crest.

At the September 17, 2018 council meeting a resident, structural engineer, addressed the council with concern over what he considered a “ridiculously high” estimate on conducting soil and water level testing on a preferred site in Hunters Crest. The two options by the city’s preferred vendor are below:

estimate.jpg

The gentleman addressing the council during the “Persons to be Heard” portion of the meeting contacted a soils engineer that indicated an overly generous estimate for this work shouldn’t be more than $6,000.

bucketPerhaps a $4K-$5K overcharge to the city is a “drop in the bucket” to our city administrator who isn’t a taxpayer in Minnetrista. Multiply these “drops” that will accumulate as this water project is designed and built. Hmm, what’s 60% of $2.3M?

Here is the video from the September 17th meeting cued up to the comment: City of Minnetrista 9/17/18 Council Meeting

August 8, 2018

PRELIMINARY STAFF PROPOSAL ON THE 2019 TAX LEVY Monday night offered two options, a 6.72% increase over 2018 or a 5% increase. Both are too high, as they always are on the first go-round. Minnetrista has seen growth this past year in new residences and obviously needs to provide city services to those additional residents and will, of course, require a budget increase to do so. But most of the city’s market valuation growth has been from the rise in property values on previously existing properties. Total market valuation growth this past year has been approximately 7.5% (approx. 2.5% from new and 5% from existing properties).

I suggested Monday night that a levy increase of 4.5% should more than adequately provide services for both existing and new residents in Minnetrista (2.5% increase for growth plus 2% inflationary increase). I also identified some items in the proposed budget that need to be evaluated. A tax levy increase does not, necessarily, translate to higher taxes paid if the levy increase stays in line and tracks closely with population growth. Residents are encouraged to attend upcoming public hearings on the 2019 tax levy. Watch for those dates here and on the City of Minnetrista’s website.

January 17, 2018

1/16/18 Council Meeting Agenda: Capital Improvement Project Discussion:
Despite the fact that 90% of Minnetrista’s roads are in good to excellent condition (road condition assessments provided by WSB Engineering in 2017) and we’ve almost doubled our budget in 2018 for road improvements, the city’s pavement management plan is calling for another 36% increase in 2019. Our road budget in this plan will go from $350K (in 2018) to $800K (in 2022) over 4 years. That’s a 128% increase over 4 years! I have a problem with that and I said so last night. If you’re a Minnetrista taxpayer and these numbers are approved by the council you can expect to see some hefty tax levy increases on your property.

We’ve been able to keep 90% of our roads in good to excellent condition in the past without resorting to these extraordinary increases. I know it costs money to maintain our roads but we need to make sure the costs we’re putting in our pavement management plan aren’t inflated and that’s impossible to do without competition in that marketplace. This is one of the primary reasons I’ve requested the council consider rebidding the city’s professional services agreement for engineering services. That contract hasn’t been rebid for over 13 years.

A couple of quick highlights from our work session Tuesday evening:

Agenda Item 1: Code Compliance/Enforcement Options.
Properties posing a nuisance to neighbors is a challenging area of the law for cities to deal with. Residents want resolution to whatever the nuisance is but often times the legal recourse to address it doesn’t exist, especially in rural areas which comprise a great deal of properties in Minnetrista. My general take in these matters is to encourage neighbors to resolve disputes themselves without involving the city unless the nuisance is an obvious environmental or safety hazard endangering the community at large.

The impetus to all of this was a complaint from neighbors about a rural property with a lot of older vehicles parked around it and the neighbors consider it an eyesore. We discussed the possibility of modifying zoning ordinances, pursuing a civil public nuisance case, and other possible solutions presented by our legal counsel but many carried a considerable cost to Minnetrista taxpayers. We settled on having our legal counsel draft a letter to the property owner detailing the actions the city requires.

Agenda Item 2: Halstead Road Update:
The city had received an email from a resident complaining about several aspects of the Halstead Road project, which, by the way, isn’t complete yet. Complaints centered around the mini-roundabout and aesthetics of the guard rails. After asking the City Administrator how many formal complaints the city has received I was told there was just one, although Council Member Thoele indicated she had spoken to others. Paul Hornby, our contract city engineer, explained the project design and reasons for the mini roundabout and guard rails. There didn’t appear to be consensus from the Council to modify the design which would require costly changes although Mayor Whalen suggested some plantings might help obscure the guard rails.