Tag Archives: Matt Podhradsky

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.

Surly passes on Chaska

The staff report for the October 17 City Council meeting includes an update from City Administrator Matt Podhradsky on the wooing of Surly Brewing Company to build on the former Chaska Building Center site.

According to Podhradsky, Tegra Group (which is handling the firm handling the site search for Surly) notified the city earlier this week that Chaska was not selected to be a finalist for the new brewery.  Tegra Group felt the site was “nice”, but did not have the central location that Surly is looking for.

Chaska facing $400,000 deficit in 2012

The Chaska Herald reported on Monday’s City Council Work Session, at which City Administrator Matt Podhradsky unveiled the updated five-year financial forecast.

The forecast projects a deficit of over $400,ooo for 2012, and higher deficits in the remaining years of the forecast.   On the good news side of the ledger, the projected 2012 deficit is smaller than the 2011 deficit of $650,000 which was closed using a tax rate increase and deferrals of equipment purchases.  Also, TIF District No. 4 closes in 2014-15, which will free up funding for the Street Reconstruction Program.

While the 2012 deficit should be relatively easy to resolve, the City is going to have to get serious about addressing the long-term structural issues in the budget, as I pointed out when the 2011 budget was finalized.  You can’t put off equipment purchases forever, and there is substantial activity ahead — whether it’s the Downtown Master Plan, renovation of Athletic Park, and the maintenance required at the Chaska Community Center (such as the planned replacement of the ice making systems). 

While the City has been quite successful in obtaining grant money to supplement critical projects, we can’t assume such funding is going to remain available — especially given the fact that the federal and state budgets are going to be crimped for the forseeable future.  And while there are signs that development activity may be beginning to come back to life, we can’t expect a building boom comparable to what we saw in the last decade.

Residents of the City would be well served if the Mayor and Council would make moves to eliminate some of the structural issues in the budget starting in 2012 instead of waiting for more severe measures down the road.

Radio silence continues

Updated below (3/22).

Despite now having a full-time employee devoted to city communications, the City of Chaska continues to underwhelm with its ability to get information out of City Hall and to its residents.  Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • Downtown Master Plan:  For weeks before the February 16 Open House, the city was claiming it was going to get information on its website regarding the plan and in particular, the three Catalyst Sites.  We’re now nearly five weeks after the Open House, and nothing is posted as of yet.
  • Facebook:  The city heralded its Facebook account when it opened a year ago.  The page now hasn’t been updated in six months.
  • Agendas and Minutes:  Getting agendas and minutes for the City Council and Commissions on to the webpage continues to somehow be a difficult challenge in 2011.  Council agendas are routinely posted very late in the day on the Friday before the meeting.  This is a very poor way to allow people to know what is coming up in front of the Council.  There’s no reason that a preliminary agenda can’t be posted a week in advance, and then updated to a final agenda on Friday.  As for the Commissions, only the Planning Commission has its documents regularly posted to the site.  None of the other Commissions show any activity on the website in 2011, and the Heritage Preservation and Parks Commissions show little activity in the second half of 2010.  The names of the Commissioners haven’t been updated to reflect the new appointments.  This is basic stuff that just isn’t happening.

Who at City Hall is going to begin to take this seriously?  Compare what Chaska is doing to what Chanhassen is doing on the web and on Facebook.  They have a webpage that is clean with a list of recent updates on the right side of the page and has a repository of agendas and minutes that goes back over a decade.  Their Facebook page is updated 2-3 times per week with community links and important updates.

It’s not difficult or expensive to have a clean, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to-update web site today.  (This blog, for instance is built on software that is free.)  It wouldn’t be difficult for the City of Chaska to have a web presence that reflects that — it just takes a little effort.

The city is approaching a major event in the next few days — serious flooding of the Minnesota River that will precipitate the closure of MN-41 and MN-101 between our area and Shakopee.  How is the city going to keep residents informed?  Last year, they used Facebook reasonably effectively to do so.  This year?  Well, we know there’s nothing on Facebook and there’s no current river status on the Chaska city website, either.

Again, compare how Chaska is communicating here versus what is happening in Carver.  Carver’s Mayor, Greg Osterdyk, is providing frequent updates on his blog.  The city website has updates on the front page and a whole special section as well.

The City of Chaska does so many things well — if only they could get it together on their communications.

[UPDATE, 3/22]:  The city is now reposting the Carver County Flood Updates on the front page of the website.  Also, a link to the Athletic Park Webcam has been posted.

Different kinds of plans

There are plans, and then there are plans.

What was presented at the Downtown Master Plan Open House last week was a plan.  A good plan, as far as it goes, anyway.  There were a number of very good concepts and ideas there, on the 15 or so charts that filled the room.  From plans for a revitalized Firemans Park corner to notions of expanded housing on the riverfront, to the out-of-the-box ideas for plowing under the decidedly not historic strip mall in the heart of downtown, there was a lot to chew on.

So, why, then did the Chaska Herald report so much skepticism from the attendees?

It’s because there wasn’t any plan to take what was on the charts and turn them into reality.  For some attendees, the exercise appeared to be one of pure fantasy.

It’s a little overwhelming – a lot of long-view stuff that probably won’t happen — Tom Hayden, Chaska Farm & Garden

That’s an attitude that the City Council will need to work quickly to overcome.  The way it does so it to clearly establish a real implementation plan — setting priorities, goals, and measures for the short-, medium-, and long-term planning horizons.  It’s critical that the plan be specific, so that the Council and city staff can be held  accountable for progress towards the objectives.  If we don’t see a specific plan and objectives from the Council, that’s a signal we’re in for real trouble.

A not-so-good prediction

From the September 2, 2009 Chaska Herald:

Podhradsky said that he foresaw the city’s tax rate remaining at a constant 22.2 percent for at least the next five years after the increase.

Two tax increases in two years, yet we’re still facing a deficit over the next five years.  Time to get real about the structural issues in the budget.

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.

More radio silence

Tonight, the Chaska City Council, Chaska Planning Commission, Chaska Parks Commission and Chaska Heritage Preservation Committee will be having a joint meeting at the Chaska Community Center to discuss the initial findings from the Downtown Master Plan process.  (A public forum will take place in January, but tonight’s meeting is an open meeting under Minnesota statute.)

How was this communicated to residents?

Front page of the city website?  Nope.

A note in the City Council section of the website?  Nope.

The City Hall Bulletin?  Nope.  It lists that the normal meeting of the Planning Commission is canceled, but nothing about this meeting.

An announcement on its Facebook page?  Nope.

The only place this meeting is communicated is buried deep in the staff report and in the other business section of the minutes from the 12/6 City Council meeting.

When will City Hall begin to take seriously its responsibility to communicate with residents and make the people part of the process?

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
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