Tag Archives: Mark Windschitl

A Chaska Continuity Crisis? Not so much.

At the December 17 Chaska City Council meeting, the city said its formal farewells to departing Councilors Chris Schulz, Greg Boe, and Paula Geisler, for it was the last meeting for all three.  Jay Rohe, who resigned from the Council in October, was also there to mark the occasion. There was much discussion at the meeting about how the sudden turnover of all four Council seats is unprecedented in the 50-year history of Chaska’s current council structure.

Already there is some muttering and questioning in the community about the lack of continuity and experience on the Council. But is that the right question to be asking? And is the current situation really so unprecedented?

Let’s take the second question first. The notion that Chaska has always had an experienced Council is one that is largely manufactured. In fact, we only need to wind the clock back to 2010 to find another highly inexperienced Council. After Mark Windschitl won the Mayoral Special Election in January of that year, he joined four other Councilors – Gino Businaro, Boe, Schulz, and Rick Ford – who were all in their first term.  Not to mention the fact that City Administrator Matt Podhradsky had been on the job for only a little over a year at the time. Looking back on that time, I think we can all agree that the city survived that “inexperience” on the Council.

Why is that? Well, it goes back to the first question. Continuity in anything can’t – and shouldn’t – only be judged by ensuring that specific individuals are present. No one is irreplaceable and no one is immortal. True continuity is created not by returning the same people to the same seats over and over again, but rather by the hard work of building a common set of values, a shared sense of mission, processes that have been refined with learnings over time, and a commitment to building community.

(And let’s also not forget that the folks who should get to decide how much continuity and experience are valued are the citizens of Chaska – not the Council itself. Keep that in mind should the Council decide to appoint a new Ward 2 Councilor instead of having a special election for the seat.)

Yes, we’ve lost a lot of experience from the Council in recent months. But, we’re also gaining a lot. Mike Huang and Jon Grau both served for nine years on the Planning and Parks & Recreations Commissions (including multiple years as the Chair for both), respectively. Both have been excellent public servants in those roles. McKayla Hatfield is a lifelong Chaska resident and small-business owner who demonstrated her devotion to the city and her willingness to work hard in her victorious campaign this fall.

They bring new perspectives and new areas of focus – just as the group a decade ago did. After all, Chaska has never stood still. It’s never looked backwards. Each wave of leadership has built on the foundation that has been left and moved our city forward into the future. I’m confident that Mike, Jon, and McKayla will do that, too. After all, they’re the product of the hard work put in over the years by generations of Chaska leaders to build that true continuity – one that transcends any individual.

So, don’t despair, question, or mutter. Instead, talk to your City Council members and let them know what you think! Help them move our city forward in a constructive way.

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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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

City Council approves more paid personal leave time for city employees

At Monday’s Chaska City Council meeting, the Council approved changes to the paid personal leave (PPL) policy for all city union and non-union employees.  The changes were approved on a 3-1 vote, with Councilor Gino Businaro voting no, and Mayor Mark Windschitl absent due to illness.

These changes provide employees with additional paid personal leave, designed (per City Administrator Matt Podhradsky) to bring Chaska in line with the average of a peer group of 30 cities.

The changes would give an employee an average of about three more days of paid personal leave per year over the first 20 years of employment.

Below is a table showing the breakdown of the new plan versus the current plan.  City employees are also expected (assuming the preliminary levy is approved at the December 20 City Council meeting) to get pay raises of 1.5% in 2011.

   Days of Paid Personal Leave
Years of Service Current Plan New Plan Difference
0 15 18 3
1 15 18 3
2 15 18 3
3 15 18 3
4 15 18 3
5 15 18 3
6 20 22 2
7 20 22 2
8 20 22 2
9 20 22 2
10 20 22 2
11 21 23 2
12 22 24 2
13 23 25 2
14 24 26 2
15 25 27 2
16 25 28 3
17 25 29 4
18 25 30 5
19 25 31 6
20 30 31 1
TOTAL 435 492 57

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.

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