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).

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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” your money or Mound’s?

I serve on both the Mound Fire and St. Boni fire advisory commissions that provide fire service to the city of Minnetrista. Since the Mound fire station was built in 2004 Minnetrista taxpayers have been helping to pay off the bond taken out to build it. Minnetrista annually pays approximately $68K to the city of Mound who will be making their last annual payment of $283K on that debt in 2022.

raining moneyAt the November 20 Mound Fire Commission meeting (Mayor Whalen also serves on the Mound Fire Commission), this money was referred to as a “windfall” amounting to $283K per year that Mound’s supported cities need to decide how, or if, to spend going forward. There appeared to be a presumption at the meeting that the cities would keep remitting their shares of the annual bond payment, even after the bond is retired. This item will be on the January Mound Fire Commission agenda to decide how to allocate this “windfall” and whether or not to spend it on equipment, replenish general fund reserves, or other administrative costs.

I had requested this be put on our December 2 city council agenda for our entire council to weigh in on this decision since this is a significant amount of money ($68K annually x forever). Below is the email I sent to our city administrator (emphasis added in bold). He did not put it on the agenda and suggested, before doing so, that the other council members need to decide if they think this “warrants further discussion.” I, personally, believe this is a decision that belongs to the Minnetrista city council, not the Mound Fire Commission.

From: Shannon Bruce
Sent: Saturday, November 23, 2019 9:16 AM
To: Mike Barone
Subject: URGENT Agenda item for December 2 – Mound Fire $283K bond debt retirement

Hi Mike,

I think the council needs to weigh in on what Minnetrista’s direction to Mound Fire is going to be on the “windfall” resulting from the retirement of the annual $283K building bond payment in 2023. We need to give Mound direction at our January Fire Commission meeting and I’d like to request this be an agenda item for our December 2 council meeting so we can all be on the same page when we respond. This is a significant amount of money especially since it isn’t just a one-time windfall but could continue indefinitely. I also think it’s important it be an agenda item rather than a work session simply because of the significance. Here are some of the options to present to the council:

1) Retire the debt but keep Minnetrista’s future payments the same (allowing Mound Fire to use the annual windfall indefinitely for future CIP, Fire Dist organizational costs, other needs etc.);

2) Retire the debt and reduce Minnetrista’s portion going forward (Mound Fire would need to ask for additional CIP/Fire Dist org costs, other future needs);  

3) Allow using a portion of the first year’s windfall to replenish Mound Fire’s reserves that have been used in anticipation of the coming windfall but otherwise reduce Minnetrista’s portion going forward; or

4) Allow using a portion of the first year’s windfall to pay for Fire District organization costs in addition to replenishing Mound Fire’s reserves but otherwise reduce Minnetrista’s portion going forward.

There are, of course, other combinations of the above we may arrive at but because of the significance I think it’s important to have a vote on this.

Thanks,
Shannon

Conflict of interest? Maybe?

WAKE UP MINNETRISTA
Wake up Minnetrista!

CONFLICT OF INTEREST? Ya think? Do you think this guy should be advising the city of Minnetrista on our Comprehensive Plan and the Met Council’s GreenStep cities program? Do you think, maybe, that WSB, the city’s contract engineering firm, might be the company to manage the “best practices” projects recommended by this “green new deal” effort led by unelected officials? Wake up Minnetrista.

consultant linkedin

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

Misuse of statistics manipulate Minnetrista

“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.

dwarf_PNG76Omissions: Leaving out something significant that, if known, would lead the reader to a different conclusion from the data presented:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.