Tag Archives: Chris Schulz

Radio silence, Truth in Taxation edition [UPDATED]

The City of Chaska Truth in Taxation hearing is on Monday, December 5.  As was noted before the setting of the preliminary levy in September, the City has been slow to post final budget information online.  Certainly, one would think this information is put together and available by now.  So, get it out there for people to see and read!

UPDATE 12/4, 9:00 p.m.:  Still nothing posted on the city’s website.  Just not acceptable.

Downtown Open House reminder and other news

The public open house to review the initial output of the Downtown Master Plan is on Wednesday, February 16.  The event will be held at the Chaska Community Center Community Room from 7-9 p.m.  This event is meant to be the primary means by which the public will get input into the task force’s final report, so if you are interested in the future of Downtown Chaska, please attend.

In other news:

  • At its Monday meeting, the City Council settled on a new policy for determining the Mayor Pro Tem.  The longest standing Council member (with a minimum of two years on the council) will hold the position, with the position rotating yearly to the person with the next longest seniority on the Council.  As Chris Schulz was the Mayor Pro Tem in 2009-2010, the Council named Rick Ford as the Mayor Pro Tem for 2011, with Greg Boe on tap for the position in 2012.
  • The city completed its Michael Foods noise analysis last week.  The facility was within ordinance on an average basis, but there were spikes of noise that were in violation.  The city will be working with Michael Foods to see if those spikes can be eliminated.
  • Finally, I am pleased to report that I have been selected for participation on the Park Board.  There are a lot of exciting projects ahead, and I look forward to helping continue the city’s excellent parks and recreation facilities and programs.  If you have questions or concerns about parks and rec issues, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kicking the can down the road

Last night, the City Council voted 5-0 to approve an increase in the property tax rate designed to keep the 2011 tax levy at the same level as 2010.  

Much of the Council’s discussion related to the issue of personnel costs, which have been budgeted to increase 1.5% in 2011.  Unfortunately, much of that discussion involved setting up strawmen (that critics were demanding drastic cuts in salary or personnel numbers) and knocking them down.

The city’s budget does nothing to address the long-term financial issues that this city faces.  Even with the tax increase, 2012 and the rest of the five-year planning period still projects to have serious deficits that are going to have to be addressed either by further tax increase and/or spending cuts.  Holding out hope that development is going to ride to the rescue in 2011 — which the Council seems to be counting on — is a pretty thin strand to grasp.  While we all hope that the economy is poised to truly turn around, the stark reality is that the last two economic recoveries have taken far longer than historical post-WWII trend to produce a return to “normal”.

The Council seemingly hasn’t learned from recent experience with the Street Reconstruction Program or Water Rates.  Kicking the can down the road doesn’t work.  With those programs, the Council waited and waited, then was forced to make dramatic changes (a tax increase for the former and a near-doubling of rates for the latter).   Thanks to the inaction of the Council to start addressing these structural issues with the 2011 budget, we’re potentially facing a much larger mess in 2012 and beyond.

When roughly 70% of the city general fund budget goes to personnel costs, you’re going to have to go there to get savings.  Everyone appreciates that Chaska has, by and large, excellent city staff who are smart, versatile, and dedicated.  But reality is reality.  You can’t just wave away (as Mayor Mark Windschitl did) the fact that private sector workers have seen dismal labor market conditions and homeowners are experiencing declining property values.  A one-year pay freeze for city employees would not be out of line given the current situation, and in fact, that would be far better than what many employees of other government agencies have been receiving.

It’s critical that Chaska’s financial house get put into order sooner rather than later.  In January, the city will unveil the results of the Downtown Master Plan.   First looks  for some of the ideas on critical downtown blocks were given to the Chaska Herald last week.  These ideas look promising, but they are not going to be free.  If revitalization of downtown is as important as everyone says it is, then money is going to have to be freed up for these efforts.  We’ve got to have the rest of the budget in line in order to be able to effectively address downtown (realizing that said funds will come from multiple sources).  Otherwise, all the hard work (and the $83,000 in consulting fees) will go up on the shelf, not to be used.

Truth in Taxation tonight

The Truth in Taxation meeting to discuss the city’s proposed increase in the property tax rate is tonight.  The General Fund presentation is online, while details for the other funds have not been posted.  A final vote on the city budget will be at the December 20 City Council meeting.

In September, the City Council approved a preliminary levy equal to that of last year, which effectively means that property taxes will be raised 6.7% to offset a similar decline in property valuations in 2011. 

Under the preliminary levy, the median homeowner in Chaska would see a decline in property taxes of $1 versus a decline of $30 if the tax rate were to stay the same.

Additionally, the plan called for the following cuts:

  • Do not hire a budget analyst and heavy equipment operator as originally planned
  • Delay purchases of a new siren for northern Chaska and additional snow removal equipment
  • Reduce the sealcoat and overlay portion of the street reconstruction programThe cuts and the tax hikes represent a combined $639,000, offsetting increases in personnel (1.5%) and operating expenses (2%).
  • Unfortunately, the City Council has not gone further and addressed additional expenses that should be looked at.  I would propose these additional measures, with the savings going to reduce the tax rate:

    • A one-year pay freeze for city employees.  This would be entirely appropriate, given the continued budget problems and the dismal conditions in the larger labor market — as most families have seen their wages frozen (or worse) in the current economy.  Many other cities have already taken this step.  Councilor Gino Businaro has been pushing for this, and we shall see if he votes against the budget again because it is not included.
    • Elimination of the downtown flower program and begin a transition away from city subsidies for “Concerts in the Park”, Taste of Chaska, and River City Days.  These are excellent opportunities for the Chaska business community to step up.  The goal should be for the city to eventually not have to subsidize these events at all, but the transition should happen over a three-year timeframe to allow organizations to fundraise to fill the void.
    • Voluntary pay cuts from the Mayor and Council:  Under Chaska statute, changes to the pay for the Mayor and Council wouldn’t take impact until 2013.  However, nothing prevents the Mayor and Council from voluntarily cutting their pay.  A 10% (or more) cut would be a sign of good faith, even if it wouldn’t have significant budget impact.

    Decision time on the city budget

    The Chaska City Council held a worksession on Monday, November 15 to discuss the final city budget.  As you may recall, the Council approved in September a preliminary levy equal to that of last year, which effectively means that property taxes will be raised 6.7% to offset a similar decline in property valuations in 2011. 

    Under the preliminary levy, the median homeowner in Chaska would see a decline in property taxes of $1 versus a decline of $30 if the tax rate were to stay the same.

    Additionally, the plan called for the following cuts:

  • Do not hire a budget analyst and heavy equipment operator as originally planned
  • Delay purchases of a new siren for northern Chaska and additional snow removal equipment
  • Reduce the sealcoat and overlay portion of the street reconstruction program
  • The cuts and the tax hikes represent a combined $639,000, offsetting increases in personnel (1.5%) and operating expenses (2%).

    As part of that meeting, the council also reviewed City Administrator Matt Podhradsky’s recommendations regarding cuts should the Council choose to keep the tax rate steady instead of increasing it.  Councilor Greg Boe had asked for this view last month (long after it had been called for by some members of the community).

    These cuts include:

    • Reduced or delayed expenditures for the street reconstruction program
    • Eliminate the downtown flower program
    • Eliminate the “Concerts in the Park”
    • Reduced support for the Fireman’s Park beach and outdoor ice rinks
    • Eliminate free services (such as police coverage, sanitation, and port-a-potties) for events like Taste of Chaska and River City Days

    Chaska Herald coverage of the worksession indicates that the Council was likely to stick with the preliminary levy.

    What’s not on the table for cuts, based on the preliminary levy and Podhradsky’s stable tax rate scenario:

    • City employee salaries:  slated for 1.5% increase.  Some union contracts (including the police contracts) have already been approved by the Council at that rate.
    • Cuts to core city services:  police, fire, etc.

    What’s your take?  Should we make these cuts, or increase taxes?  Should the things that are off the table be on the table?

    Election Recap

    I know it’s nearly a week late, but some family medical issues have kept me from posting over recent days. 

    Let’s review the results of the election:

    State Senate District 34:  Julianne Ortman (63.5%) defeats Laura Helmer (30.3%) and Tim Biros (6.2%)

    State House District 34A:  Ernie Leidiger (65.1%) defeats Leanne Pouliot Kunze (34.9%)

    The DFL candidates were facing a stiff tide.  Helmer and Kunze ran probably the best races the DFL has put up in this area in a while, but achieved similar results to previous cycles.

    Chaska Mayor:  Mark Windschitl (96.0%) unopposed

    Hopefully, we’ll have a race in 2012.  Contested elections are a good thing.

    Chaska City Council Ward 1:  Scott Millard (57.9%) defeats Gino Businaro (41.6%)

    For the first time since 2002, a Chaska City Council incumbent goes down to defeat.  Interesting that Businaro is the one to pay for the Council’s perceived unwillingness to listen to the people, as Businaro has been the closest thing to a “voice of dissent” on the current Council.   It will be interesting to see what Millard brings to the Council, as his candidate forum appearance gave little insight.

    Chaska City Council Ward 3:  Chris Schulz (71.7%) defeats Charles Stech (27.9%)

    Stech seemed to have ideas, but for some reason got very little traction in his campaign.  Schulz has grown quite a bit in the last year.  He was confident and in command at the candidate forum.  It will be interesting to see if that command carries over the council meetings over the next term.

    Carver County Commissioner District 3:  Randy Maluchnik (52.7%) defeats Jay Swenson (47.1%)

    A close race that came down to the last precinct.    Strong performance by Swenson in Victoria was not enough to overcome Maluchnik’s advantages in the Chaska portion of the district.

    Brick City Blog Endorsements

    State House District 34A:  Leanne Pouliot Kunze

    Frequent readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of Leanne’s.  The two posts linked below give you key reasons to understand why I am so enthusiastic about her campaign for the State House.

    I’m Voting for Leanne Pouliot Kunze

    Do You Know Leanne Pouliot Kunze?

    State Senate District 34:  Laura Helmer

    Laura Helmer would be a terrific addition to the State Senate.  A moderate, pro-business Democrat, Helmer intends to start a bi-partisan small business caucus in the Senate — putting actions to her words.  The election of Helmer (and Kunze) would give this area responsible, solutions-focused representation in the Legisalture — a welcome change from the partisan games we’ve seen from Julianne Ortman.

    Carver County Commissioner District 3:  Randy Maluchnik

    There are certainly some valid critiques one could make of the current incumbents on the Carver County Board.  The septic system situation at the Waconia Ballroom has certainly been handled poorly.  Depending on which property tax metrics you use, you could make the argument that Carver County is somewhat overtaxed.

    That said, Jay Swenson (and the challengers in the other districts) have been light on specific changes they would make.  It’s easy to point out things that may have gone wrong in the past, but it’s far more difficult to indicate specifically how you would accomplish what you say you’re going to do.

    Randy Maluchnik has been a solid Commissioner.  He has good relations across the County.  He (and the rest of the board) have seemed to get the message on keeping a closer eye on the tax levy, as the county has reduced the levy for 2011.  Importantly, Maluchnik has also rejected the call to make the board a partisan body.  We don’t need partisan politics infecting our county and local affairs.  He deserves re-election.

    Chaska City Council:  No Endorsements

    As I don’t live in Ward 1 or Ward 3, I’m not going to give a formal endorsement.  However, a few thoughts on the races here.  As I noted about a month ago, the challengers in these races have the burden of proof.  There are decisions made and actions taken by this Council that could provide a platform for making such a case.  Based on what I’ve seen, though, the challengers have not made their case (and granted, not living in the Wards in question, I may not be aware of all the campaign activity). 

    I’m particularly hopeful that Gino Businaro will push for increased financial discipline on the city’s part should he be re-elected next week.  His “no” vote on the city budget last year was appropriate, and he should not be afraid to vote “no” again.

    Who is going to make the case?

    I watched the replay of Tuesday’s candidate forum for the Chaska City Council.  What was striking to me was that the challengers (Scott Millard and Charles Stech) failed to articulate a clear rationale for why they should replace the incumbents (Gino Businaro and Chris Schulz). 

    In part, this could be attributed to the bland and overly general questioning, but the challengers themselves ultimately are responsible.  After all, they bear the burden of proof here.  If you can’t provide a compelling argument for why you should replace the incumbent, people aren’t going to vote for you instead of the incumbent.

    Continue reading

    Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge: the worst (and best) of the Chaska Herald Q&As

    The Chaska Herald published their pre-election Q&As with the Mayor and City Council candidates this week.  As is typical in these sorts of questionnaires, there’s a lot of mushy language and unwillingness to commit to specifics.  Let’s dig in, though, and see who did the worst (and best):

    Worst spin:  Mark Windschitl

    I am not a fan of raising taxes, especially in these economic times.  That is why the council and I voted to keep the tax levy the same for next year.

    When you raise tax rates, you are raising taxes.  Period.  Don’t try to weasel out of what you voted for — if there are legitimate reasons for your vote, then stand behind it.

    Best new idea:  Charles Stech

    What if I told you there was a business that has hundreds of customers every day in downtown and has outgrown its current location.  Should we try and keep it?  Yes.  This business is the Carver County Library. Give the land (keep the Met Council grant) for a joint powers agreement to build a library/learning area. 

    Putting a new library on the former Ohnsorg site might be the proper way to thread the needle with the issue the city is having with finding a suitable development for the former Ohnsorg corner.  A new library would definitely serve a public purpose and would be compatible with the surrounding park area.

    Continue reading

    Show your work, part 2

    Remember all the talk we’ve heard in recent years about how the city of Chaska was going to do a better job of communicating with residents?

    The city of Chanhassen will be approving their preliminary tax levy on Monday, September 13 — the same day Chaska will be doing the same thing. Chanhassen has a 129-page document online showing their proposed budget including line-by-line detail. They evaluated three scenarios (a small increase, a no change scenario, and a small decrease). It’s been available on their website since August 18. The agenda and all the supporting documentation for their council meeting was posted by yesterday (some pieces were available last week).

    Here’s the link to their budget document.

    Here in Chaska, none of the above information has been posted. Trumpeting the fact that you signed up for Facebook is worse than irrelevant if you aren’t going to make the effort to truly communicate with people about the things that really matter.

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