Tag Archives: City Council

It’s Time for a Special Election, Chaska

Chaska Ward 2 City Council Member Greg Boe eked out a narrow 117-vote win in the race for State House District 47B on Election Day, meaning he will be forced to vacate his position for the final two years of his City Council term. This comes after Ward 4 Council Member Jay Rohe’s resignation in October. Both terms aren’t up for re-election until 2020.

With the pending vacancy in Ward 2 combined with the existing vacancy in Ward 4, the city is in unique circumstances.  It is not healthy for half of the city to be represented on the City Council by unelected Council Members for the next two years. It is critical that the replacement of these seats reflect the views of citizens in Wards 2 & 4.

The current composition of the Council only complicates the scenario. With three of four current members departing, it only makes it even more imperative to turn these decisions over to the citizens via special election.

These positions are elected for a reason. We have the time, resources, and capabilities to hold a special election. Per my non-lawyerly reading of election law, we could have new council members sat in time for the second council meeting in February, which realistically means at the most four council meetings with only three members. With the Planning Commission having relatively light agendas in October/November, it seems like there’s not a significant backlog of activity coming to the Council for final approval in January.  (I realize this can change quickly.) The costs of a special election are fractions of a percent of the city’s $16M general fund budget.

The city is already far along in the appointment process for Ward 4 – a process that began before the election results. I salute the Chaska residents who have stepped forward to be considered for appointment, and I thank them for their desire to serve. This effort is not about being devaluing them, but rather about putting the people of Ward 4 at the center of the conversation. Circumstances have changed, and wise leaders adjust when the situation changes.

In my time on the Chaska Park Board, one of the mantras we have heard and lived by – and one that has been echoed by the City Council — was making sure that “we did things right” even if that sometimes meant taking a little more time or even spending a little more money.  We don’t just pick the quickest, easiest or cheapest way when we can give our citizens something lasting and of value from choosing a different path. It’s our responsibility – and the City Council’s – to do the right thing for our city and there’s nothing they can do that has more value than giving the citizens their voice and their choice as to who will represent them.

A special election to fill the Ward 2 and Ward 4 vacancies is the right thing to do for the city of Chaska.

Don’t just take my word for it. 100+ Chaska residents have spoken up and signed their name to a petition just over the last two weeks to support a special election. They’ve raised their voices, I encourage you to listen to them, to join them, and tell the City Council:

Authorize a special election to fill the vacancies in Ward 2 and Ward 4.

If you agree, sign the petition at ChaskaSpecialElection.com! Join the Chaska Citizens for a Special Election Facebook group! And come to the City Council meeting on Monday, November 19 (7 p.m. at City Hall), where we will deliver the petition — and the message — in person to the Council!

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Endorsement: Jon Grau for Chaska City Council, Ward 1

I’ve served with Jon Grau for the last eight years on the city’s Parks & Recreation Board. Jon has been the chair since 2016. Jon’s actions as a member and as the chairperson of that board have been in alignment with the four values he lists on his campaign page: Honesty, Transparency, Respect, and Service.

In our time on the Park Board, we’ve tackled a lot of significant projects, Firemen’s Park and the Dog Park preeminent among them. On these projects, Jon has sought to be a consensus-builder and he has always valued and prioritized public input.

We’ve dealt with the turmoil last year of the investigation of the Parks & Recreation department leadership. Jon was a steadying force as Chair during that time, working well with the interim leadership and the Board to make sure progress continued on our key priorities.

When I look at how Jon has campaigned for City Council this fall, a few things in particular impress me.

First, his emphasis on improving city communications. I was motivated to get involved with the Park Board because of poor communications from the city during the development of the original Veterans (now Sunset) Park. A decade later, some of the commonsense suggestions made by neighbors during that process still haven’t been implemented. We can and must do better. I believe Jon when he says that this will be a priority for him when he reaches the Council.

Second, Jon’s campaign has modeled how he would behave as a member of the Council. He’s done the work — knocking on over 1,000 doors by himself. If you listen to the League of Women Voters candidate forum, you’ll see he’s thought carefully about the issues. Jon has run an inclusive, forward-looking campaign respectful of Chaska’s values but looking to grow and make it great for future generations as well. Without dwelling on the issue, I would suggest that Jon’s opponent (and her supporters) haven’t always been at the same level.

Finally, Jon would provide a perspective to the Council that’s missing at the moment. Families with school-age children aren’t represented on the Council right now, and three of the four councilors (4/5 if you include the recently resigned Jay Rohe) have been there for nine years or more. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a Council that works well with itself, but is not as open to outside views and opinions (especially if they are dissenting) as they once were.  It’s time for some fresh views and new ideas.

Jon Grau will bring a much-needed openness to the Council, respecting and listening to all in our community. If you live in Ward 1, I encourage you to vote for Jon on Election Day.

Get to the appoint: Chaska Ward 1 looking for a new councilor and other news

Chaska City Councilor Scott Millard resigned his seat effective at the end of the May 20 City Council meeting, and the Council has chosen to appoint a replacement to hold the seat through the end of Millard’s term.  The seat will be up for election in 2014.  Ward 1 residents who are interested in the position are welcomed to pick up an application package at City Hall (inexplicably, there’s no information on this process on the city website’s homepage).  Applications are due back by June 12, and applicants will interview with the Council on June 17.  The appointment will be made at the July 1 City Council meeting.  Don’t know if you live in Ward 1 (the southwest ward)?  Check out this map to see where to fall among the city’s four wards.  Per the Chaska Herald, former Ward 1 Councilor Gino Businaro has indicated he intends to apply.

In other news:

  • State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is attending the 2013 National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College this week.  Certainly such news can (and will) be viewed within the prism of other rumors.
  • Last week was a crazy week for politics in the Sixth Congressional District (which covers Carver and central and western Carver County) as both U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and DFL challenger Jim Graves pulled out of the 2014 race.  Former State Representative, current talk show host, and 2010 governor’s race loser Tom Emmer seems poised to jump in the race, making him the leading contender for the GOP nomination.  Meanwhile, no names have emerged on the DFL side thus far.  The Sixth is the strongest Republican district in the state, so there’s a thin bench of state legislators to pick from.  St. Cloud’s Tarryl Clark, who lost to Bachmann in 2010 before failing to secure the DFL nomination in the Eighth Congressional District in 2012, is sure to come up as a possibility.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto also lives in the Sixth, but is considered unlikely to run.  Graves would have likely stood a stronger chance to win the seat given the fundraising he’s already accumulated, which makes his decision curious.  Politicians who fear defeat are unlikely to make a difference in the long run, so perhaps Graves’s decision is less of a loss to Democratic hopes than thought.

Highway 212 expansion bill introduced and other happenings

Here’s a roundup of some of the happenings around the area:

  • A bill has been introduced in the State Legislature (chief authored in the House by Rep. Ernie Leidiger and in the Senate by Sen. Julianne Ortman) to expand U.S. Highway 212 to four lanes from Jonathan Carver Parkway to County Road 43 in Dahlgren Township.  Also included in the bill is $8 million for construction of an interchange at US-212 and County Road 140 in Southwest Chaska.  This bill would be a critical next step in making sure that US-212 is built out to four lanes to Norwood-Young America.  Additionally, the CR-140 interchange is critical to the success of the Southwest Chaska Master Plan recently ratified by the City Council.  This is a good bill and I hope it will be included in the omnibus transportation package this year.
  • State Representative Joe Hoppe submitted his year-end campaign finance report on February 25, some three-and-one-half weeks late.  Of note in Hoppe’s report is that he collected over $1,700 in “special source” funding in 2012 that he was forced to return.  “Special sources” include lobbyists, political party units, and political action committees.  Additionally, Hoppe’s penchant for filing late in 2012 cost him over $2,600 in late fees with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.  Some fiscal responsibility…
  • The City of Chaska City Council meeting tonight has been cancelled.
  • The Chaska Hawks girls basketball team (ranked #7 in Class AAA) will play Richfield (ranked #2 in Class AAA) on Thursday night with a berth in the State Tournament on the line.  The Hawks romped past Benilde-St. Margaret 69-41 on Saturday to reach the section final.  The game will be at 7 p.m. at Minnetonka High School.
  • On the Chaska restaurant front, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is open in Chaska Commons, while downtown’s Egg & Pie Diner is headed for a mid-March opening.  Construction is also underway at the future location of BullChicks in Chaska Commons.

More pizza pizza for Chaska

According to the staff report for Monday’s City Council meeting, Little Caesar’s Pizza is planning on going into the former Domino’s Pizza location in the Brickyard Shopping Mall.  The opening date is yet to be announced.

Also of note in the staff report is the fact that two developers are moving forward on plans to start development in Southwest Chaska, both with intentions of breaking ground this summer.  That’s excellent news!

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 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.

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.

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