Tag Archives: Chaska

Eastern Carver County takes some steps in a moderate direction

Every election cycle, we get the requisite story about Carver County’s long history of voting Republican.  2012 was largely a continuation of that trend, with Mitt Romney racking up nearly 60% of the vote in the County, and Congressional and Legislative Republicans winning re-election.  But there were some signs that the “suburbanization” of eastern Carver County may be starting to make Chanhassen and Chaska look more like their Hennepin County neighbors than like the rest of Carver County.

Let’s start off with the U.S. Senate race.  For the first time in recent memory, a Democratic candidate won the county.  Senator Amy Klobuchar cruised to victory by a double-digit margin over Republican nominee Kurt Bills.  Klobuchar won eight of the nine precincts in House District 47B (all of Chaska, precincts 3-5 of Chanhassen, and precincts 1-2 of Victoria), and tied with Bills in the ninth.  Much of that has to do with Bills’s historical weakness as a candidate, but it also speaks to the kind of Senator Klobuchar has been.  (Keep in mind, Klobuchar lost Carver County six years ago to Mark Kennedy).  Klobuchar has taken a moderate, low-key approach in the Senate, focusing on consumer issues and taking centrist positions on civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as many business issues.

Another notable result was on the marriage amendment.  If you look at House District 47B, the marriage amendment lost by nine points (45.4% yes vs. 54.6% no/no-vote).  The weak performance of the marriage amendment (compared to expectations) in traditional Republican areas like Carver County can in large part explain why it failed on a state-wide basis.

Interestingly enough, this vote puts eastern Carver County’s legislators, State Sen. Julianne Ortman and State Rep. Joe Hoppe, squarely in opposition with a large block of their constituents (While Hoppe’s 47B voted solidly against the amendment, 47A voted in favor of the amendment, allowing it to win SD 47 with 50.1%).  Both voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot, and Ortman fought back hard against allegations that she hadn’t been supportive enough of the amendment during her campaign for the GOP endorsement against Bruce Schwichtenberg.  Will Ortman and Hoppe back off of their support for their party’s divisive social agenda?

Meanwhile, the Carver County Commissioner races continued to show trends began in 2010.  In that cycle, the three incumbent commissioners on the ballot withstood challenges from the right.  This year, with all five incumbents up for re-election thanks to redistricting, all five incumbents were victorious.  Four of those incumbents fended off challenges from the right.  Tom Workman was the exception, as he was the lone incumbent who faced a less-partisan challenger.

What does this mean?  Is eastern Carver County poised to “turn blue”?  It may be too soon to say that, but it does show that demographic trends are likely over time to make this area more competitive than it has been in the past.  And Democratic candidates with the right mix of qualities can get a fair hearing from voters in these areas.  Democratic efforts should be focused on party-building and creating the infrastructure to support and develop these types of candidates that can compete and eventually win in eastern Carver County.  Klobuchar and State Senator Terri Bonoff are good examples of the sort of moderate candidates that would fit that mold.

[Edited to clarify a point on the marriage amendment, 11:20 11/13]

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Chaska Area Election Results and Quick Analysis

State Senate District 47:  Julianne Ortman (63.8%) def. Jim Weygand (36.0%)

State House District 47A:  Ernie Leidiger (62.5%) def. Keith Pickering (37.3%)

The two challenged legislative incumbents cruise to victories with margins somewhat smaller than 2010.  Probably the biggest change for Ortman, Leidiger, and Joe Hoppe (who was unopposed in House District 47B) is that they will be working again from the legislative minorities, as the DFL flipped the script on the GOP and retook both houses of the Legislature.  In fact, with the current results showing the DFL having a 39-28 lead in the Senate and 73-61 in the House, the DFL is poised to have larger majorities the next two years than the Republicans did in the previous two.

This will mean a significant loss in power for Ortman and Hoppe, who chaired committees when in the majority, but both will still be well-positioned to work on a bipartisan basis on critical issues.  Although Ortman and the DFL majorities are out of step on many tax issues, fulfilling the promise of fundamental tax reform will require hard work from both parties to craft the best solution.  Hoppe has worked well with many DFLers in the past, including Rep. Joe Atkins, who may very well end up taking the gavel on the Commerce Committee.

This will also be a challenge for Leidiger.  His first term was rather unproductive (only one bill signed into law, placing him in the bottom quarter of the GOP freshmen), and that was with a Republican majority.  Is Leidiger only interested in being a lightning rod backbencher, or is he capable of more?  If he is capable of more, now is the time to show it.

Carver County Commissioner District 1:  Gayle Degler (60.6%) def. John Siegfried (38.7%)

Carver County Commissioner District 2:  Tom Workman (58.1%) def. Cheryl Ayotte (41.5%)

Carver County Commissioner District 3:  Randy Maluchnik (67.0%) def. Vince Beaudette (32.3%)

Carver County Commissioner District 4:  Tim Lynch (63.4%) def. Frank Long (36.2%)

Carver County Commissioner District 5:  Jim Ische (53.3%) def. Jim Walter (46.3%)

The five incumbents all win re-election.  The notable thing here is that for the second cycle in a row, the Republican-endorsed challengers all lost.  As I’ve said before, this is a losing strategy for the local Republican Party.  County issues are not partisan issues, and voters don’t appreciate partisan warfare being brought where it doesn’t belong.

Eastern Carver County School Board:  Heather Nelson (25.0%), Amy Logue (24.0%) and Jeff Ross (19.2%) def. Jim Leone (17.8%) and Larry Doran (13.4%).

The housecleaning is complete with this vote, as Jim Leone is the last long-term incumbent on the Board is swept out of office.  Highly qualified newcomers Logue and Ross join Nelson (who won election to reduced term in 2010) on the Board.

Chaska Mayor:  Mark Windschitl (67.8%) def. Richard Swanson (31.1%)

This was a clear show of support for the current city leadership.  Windschitl has grown greatly on the job the last three years, and Swanson’s failure to provide a clear case for change and his tax issues didn’t help his cause.

More analysis to come, including looking at the statewide races and constitutional amendments.

 

Mayor candidate Swanson has $31,000 in unpaid taxes

Richard Swanson, who is running for Mayor of Chaska, has tax liens against his business totaling over $31,000 for tax years 2005-2008 according to the Chaska Herald.

Here’s a helpful hint for folks thinking about running for office in the future — if you have tax liens against you, get it taken care of before you file your candidacy.

Last week, before we were aware of this story, Brick City Blog endorsed Mark Windschitl for Chaska Mayor.

 

Chaska Herald, other Carver County newspapers urge a no vote on marriage amendment

This week’s edition of the Chaska Herald features an editorial indicating the paper’s opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot to limit the definition of marriage to be one man and one woman.

Here’s a key passage from the piece:

The United States has a long tradition of debating our rights, namely measures that would limit freedoms. The public has largely argued against things that would limit rights – to bear arms, to worship, to free speech.

So it’s alarming that the state Legislature would ask the public to enshrine in the State Constitution a law that would strive to take away rights – the right of two Minnesotans to marry.

Traditionally, we know that marriage has been defined as between one man and one woman. We also know that customs and laws have changed for the better since the founding of the United States, providing equal rights for women and minorities. As a result, our country has grown stronger.

The Herald joins three other Carver County newspapers — the Carver County News, Waconia Patriot, and Norwood-Young America Times — in opposing the amendment.  Their editorial, which ran last week, echoed many of the same themes:

America was not founded on the principle of oppression. America was founded on the principle of freedom.

Passing the amendment would place limits in our constitution on the freedom of same-sex citizens. It would erect a barrier to continuing the discussion of same-sex marriage, for today’s voters and for future generations of Minnesotans who might want to reopen the debate.

Voters would, in fact, be making choices for those future generations. Voters would be telling many of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that marriage won’t be an option for them.

That’s not freedom, that’s oppression, and we are concerned what message that sends the world about our state. What kind of Minnesota do we want to present to the world.

The implications of that message may reach farther than we realize. We believe the marriage amendment, if passed, would limit the ability to recruit and retain top talent. Minnesota companies such as General Mills and St. Jude Medical have spoken out against the amendment, saying it would hurt their ability to recruit and hire a diverse group of employees.

The papers are right on this issue.  Same-sex marriage is already illegal in this state based on statute, there is no need to make it doubly illegal by enshrining such language in the Constitution.

(On a snarky note, is it possible to have Carver County Commissioner candidate profiles retroactively removed from the Herald?  Asking for some friends.)

Brick City Blog Endorsement: Mark Windschitl for Chaska Mayor

In the first of our endorsements for the 2012 election cycle, I’m pleased to announce support for the re-election of Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl.

When Windschitl first ran for the office, in the 2010 Special Election, I did not support him.  (On a side note, I am very pleased that we will see the return of Windschitl’s opponent in that election, Jay Rohe, to the City Council.  His voice will be a welcome addition to the Council.)

Windschitl’s 2010 Special Election campaign focused on his personal qualities and long history in Chaska to the exclusion of what agenda he wanted to pursue for the city.

That said, his performance since his election has exceeded my expectations.  He has grown into the role and has overseen the long-awaited completion of the Downtown Master Plan.  The city is in the midst of refreshing its plan for Southwest Chaska — another important effort.  Windschitl’s support of these efforts has been important, and now we need to see him and the rest of the Council follow through to make sure city staff are executing the plan to the best of their abilities.

On the downside, many of the problems that have existed in Chaska for years and years are still there.  Principally:  communication.  The city still does a lousy job of communicating basic information to its citizens.  The city’s website is still a mess.  Last month, the city passed its preliminary levy, setting the ceiling for property tax collections in 2013.  There’s no link to the backup documentation on the front page of the website, nor on the Finance/Budget page.  (If you want to find it, you need to read the staff report from that particular council meeting.)  It shouldn’t be that hard to find basic information about a current, critical issue.  It’s long past time for the Mayor, City Council and staff to stop making excuses and get with the program.

The city also continues to kick the budget can down the road, putting off hard decisions year after year, while patting itself on the back for “not raising taxes”, even though it’s increasing the property tax rate every year.

Windschitl’s opponent, attorney Richard Swanson, is an energetic proponent of downtown Chaska.  While he provides a coherent explanation of the problems in downtown Chaska, he offers little in the way of actionable solutions or insight as to how his leadership would be different than Windschitl’s.  As such, Swanson offers no compelling reason to displace Windschitl.

Windschitl’s experience and record lead us to believe that he is the best choice to move Chaska forward for the next two years.  The city has the ball moving in the right direction, and Windschitl deserves the opportunity to keep things moving.

Below is the video from last week’s League of Women Voters candidate forum for the Chaska Mayor race, so you can evaluate Windschitl and Swanson for yourself.

 

Word games local politicians play to avoid responsibility for raising taxes

We’re entering budget season for counties and cities.  In the next three weeks, these local governmental entities will be setting their preliminary property tax levies for 2013.  The preliminary levy is the highest amount of taxes that the city or county can collect for 2013 — they do have the option of collecting less than that amount when they approve the final levy in early December.

Local units of government take great pride in announcing that they aren’t raising your taxes — they pretty much seem to make that announcement every year, in fact.  How is this possible?  Can it be true?  As you might suspect, the answer here is “not exactly”.  Let’s take a step back and see how this works.

The basic tax calculation for an individual property is pretty simple:  the value of the property multiplied by the tax rate (also called a mill rate). Since the local unit of government has to levy a specific dollar amount for their entire community, though, there’s two ways they can go about the process of determining that final number — they can either go based on the total levy amount and work back into the mill rate or they can start with the mill rate and work up to the number they need.  In reality, local governments combine the two methods to get to a final answer.

Let’s take a look at what happens here.  Here’s a community of 10 houses.  We’ll call this community “Sampleville”.  The 10 homes in Sampleville have a collective value of $3 million, and pay a combined $6,000 in property taxes based on a mill rate of 0.2%. (For wonks out there:  this is going to be a really simplified example.)

What happens in Year 2?  Let’s look at an example of what many cities and counties are experiencing today — declines in property values.  Let’s assume a 10% reduction in property values, and let’s also say that an 11th home is built in the community.  Since times are hard, this home has a less than average value of $150,000.  If the mill rate stays the same, Sampleville generates $300 fewer property tax dollars, even with the addition of the new house.

The Sampleville City Council has some decisions to make at this point.  They can choose to keep the mill rate the same and cut their budget by 5%.  Or they can do what many local government units have done — keep their overall levy amount the same.  After all, Sampleville largely has to provide the same services in Year 2 as they did in Year 1.  They may even have to provide more of some services as there are now more people living in the community.  Under this scenario, Sampleville has to raise the mill rate to make up the difference.  They only have to raise the rate by 5.26%, because of the new house being added to tax base, though.

Even though the mill rate has increased, the Sampleville City Council goes back to its residents and says:  “No tax increase!”  Why? They will say it is because they left the overall tax levy the same — and all residents who were here in Year 1 will pay less in property taxes in Year 2 than they did in Year 1.  (Never mind that they are taking a larger percentage of your property value in Year 2 than they did in Year 1.)

But what if Year 2 is a good economic year?  If property values grow by 10% instead of shrink by 10%, we see a different story.

If no changes are made to the mill rate, tax collections go up by $900.  What does the Sampleville City Council (and most units of local government) do under these situations?  Go back to their residents and say:  “No tax increase!” (and  start planning things to do with the additional $900).  Why?  Because they left your mill rate alone.  The Council will tell you that the reason your taxes went up is a result of your property value increasing, not an active decision by government.

You may have realized at this point that the Sampleville City Council is changing the rules of the game midstream here.  You may also be realizing that many local units of government in Carver County (and across the state) operate the same way.  If you change the standard by which you declare a “tax increase”, it’s pretty easy to make it look like you’re not increasing taxes.

This isn’t meant as some sort of anti-tax screed.  In times like we are in today, decisions to keep local levies flat by raising the mill rate can frequently be justified.  But we have to be fair and call a spade a spade.  If keeping the mill rate flat during good times and collecting the additional revenue from increase property values isn’t a tax increase, then raising the mill rate during bad times to make up for declining property values is a tax increase.  Period.  We should expect our local government officials to not try to muddy the waters on this point.

Chaska Park Board approves Griep Park plan

The Chaska Park Board (of which I am a member) approved the plan for development of Griep Park last night by a 6-0 vote.  The plan involves installation of play equipment on the park’s southeast corner near White Oak Drive.  The project has a $90,000 budget — $50,000 for the playground equipment and $40,000 for site preparation, grading, and landscaping.

The project will next go to the Chaska City Council for approval at their meeting on Monday, May 21.

I want to thank the many residents from that neighborhood who got involved with the process.  Your involvement makes for better results.  The final plan will be minimally disruptive to the heavily wooded park, and has nice play areas for both preschoolers and school-age children.  This park is going to be a real asset to the neighborhood, and a nice addition to the city’s park system.

On a sad note, former Park Board member Jack Spizale passed away last week.  Jack was warm-hearted, friendly, and a great asset to the Park Board.  He will be missed.

Chaska Area News and Notes: April 23, 2012

Assorted news and observations from the last few days:

  • I finally got down to Patron Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, and I highly recommend it!  Good food and fairly priced.  Service was a touch slow, but I was willing to live with it because it was nice to see a downtown Chaska restaurant that was busy.  Check out their Facebook page for more information.
  • Chaska Middle School West math teacher Michelle Schnaare was named District 112’s Teacher of the Year on Saturday night.  Schnaare receives a $3,000 grant to use on a classroom project of her design.  Congratulations to her and the other finalists:  Chris Commers (Chaska High School, Social Studies), Sara Falkofske (Chanhassen High School, Science), Marie Foster (Chaska Elementary, 4th grade) and Angie Kissock (Chanhassen High,  Physical Fitness).
  • I attended the first annual Pride of Chaska BBQ Bash on Friday night benefiting Chaska High School.  A great event that raised about $50,000 towards building a competition-caliber softball field at the school as well as acquiring a marimba for the music program.
  • After a series of neighborhood meetings, the plan for Griep Park is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Chaska Park Board at next month’s meeting, which will be on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center.
  • Supporters of Ron Paul for President have been very successful in getting their delegates through to the upper levels of the Republican caucus process.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Paul supporters earned 20 of the 24 Congressional District delegate spots, despite finishing a distant second to Rick Santorum in the non-binding vote at the precinct caucuses in February.  This is not going over well in some quarters of the party.

Chaska Herald column, April 5, 2012: City needs to stick to the plan

Below is the commentary I wrote for this week’s Chaska Herald:

There has been significant angst expressed in the Chaska Herald’s letters to the editor and in various online forums about some of the recent happenings in the city’s business environment.  Let’s put a little perspective around some of these events.

In January, the abrupt closing of the Chaska Rex movie theater again raised concerns about the viability of businesses in downtown Chaska.  Letter writers in the March 15 and March 22 editions of the Herald called for more attention from the City Council, media outlets, and residents to the situation.

The challenges that downtown Chaska faces didn’t just develop in the last couple of years; it’s been an ongoing process for a long time.  I haven’t lived here as long as many of you (nine years and counting now), but one letter writer pointed out significant business closings downtown going back to the late 1980s.  People can and will go back and dissect things the City Council did or didn’t do, ways society has changed, and ways our community has changed to determine why things developed the way they did.

But what we need to focus on as a community is: how do we go forward from here?  Many of the critics point the finger at the City Council.  I’ll certainly agree that the Council has at times seemed slow to recognize or react to the problems downtown.

The Downtown Master Plan should change that equation, though.  The final chapter of the document sets out a number of guidelines for implementation of the Plan.  It is critical that the Council and city staff follows the prescriptions in that Plan and start addressing some of the “low-hanging fruit” that can provide immediate benefits to the downtown community.

I’m hopeful this can occur.  A few years ago, questions about parking downtown would be answered by references to statistical studies that showed that their formulas said there was more than enough parking downtown – ignoring the real facts that people don’t park their cars based on statistical studies.  Now, the city seems to understand that if people think there’s a parking problem, then there’s a parking problem.  Perception is – in cases like this – reality.

The Plan calls for annual action plans to be created and published, so the public can be aware of how progress is being made on these objectives.  Key things that can be done now include:  improving signage in and around downtown and across Chaska to funnel people to the downtown region, continue work with key partners (like Southwest Metro Transit) to improve parking options downtown, and develop marketing strategies and collateral for attracting businesses, customers, and tourists to downtown.

A great deal of time, effort, and taxpayer expense has gone into the creation of this Plan.  It is up to us as citizens to hold city officials accountable for carrying through and making the changes prescribed in the Plan, however.  It is also up to us as citizens to recognize that the city can’t do everything on its own.  The city can do much to make Chaska an attractive place to own and operate a business, but it is ultimately up to those business owners to elect to invest in Chaska.

This point brings us to the second event that concerned some in our community:  the approval of the building of a second McDonald’s location in the city.

Everybody has got their own personal favorite restaurant or retail store that they’d love to see in Chaska.  From Taco Bell to Whole Foods, from IHOP to Trader Joe’s, just about every name has been bandied about by someone.

In the end, though, what we would like has to bump up against the reality of who wants to make the investment in our community.  The Hazeltine Plaza development was platted in 2006 to have up to three small- to medium-box sized retail stores next to Kohl’s, plus two small Chaska Commons style strip malls that could each hold up to nine businesses each, plus two fast-food restaurant pads.

Yet, Kohl’s has sat up there alone since September 2008.

It would be nice to turn up our noses at a second McDonald’s because there’s a long line of other companies willing to snap up that spot and build there instead.  But, unfortunately, that isn’t the case right now.  And yes, there’s concern about whether or not this area can support two McDonald’s.  On the other hand, no company has a better record of picking sites across the globe than they do.

So, let’s welcome McDonald’s investment in Chaska and hope that their example inspires others to follow.  With hard work and cooperation across our city, we can build thriving business communities in downtown and on top of the hill.

Chaska News and Notes: March 15, 2012

Some news and notes from around Chaska and Carver County:

  • A prehearing conference in the Rep. Ernie Leidiger speeding ticket case will take place on April 4.
  • Sen. Julianne Ortman voted in favor of the right-to-work constitutional amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.  The amendment now moves to the Senate Rules Committee, and if it passes, it could move to the floor for final approval.
  • Chanhassen resident Cindy Pugh has announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for State House in District 33B (northeastern Chanhassen plus the Lake Minnetonka region).  Pugh will be challenging incumbent GOP State Rep. Steve Smith, who is running for his 12th term.  Pugh is a well-known Republican activist and the co-founder of the SW Metro Tea Party group.
  • The McDonald’s proposal will come before the Chaska City Council on Monday, March 19.
  • Tickets for the First Annual Chaska BBQ Bash are now available.  The event is being put together by the Pride of Chaska group and benefits Chaska High School Activities and Athletics.  The event is on Friday, April 20 at Hazeltine National Golf Club and features a live auction emceed by WCCO-TV’s Frank Vascellero.
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