Tag Archives: Mayor

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.
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    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?

    Moving away from the election…

    … let’s talk about other things going on in Chaska.

    The city’s “Truth in Taxation” hearing will be on December 6.  The City Council and City Administrator will be having work sessions on the budget before the November 15 Council meeting, and on November 29.  Will they make public the no-increase-in-the-tax-rate scenario?  One certainly hopes so.

    The Downtown Master Planning project is approaching the finish line.  We’re expecting a public open house in December, and the city is working with the Downtown Business Council to develop new sign regulations.

    Business comings and goings:

    • Anytime Fitness and Verizon Wireless are now open in Jonathan Square and Chaska Commons, respectively. 
    • Seen some construction activity in the former Cold Stone Creamery location as well.  Something new coming?
    • Cuzzy’s Brick House has a new menu.  Haven’t tried it yet, but it’s supposed to be much larger and more diverse.
    • Chaska Liquor will be opening soon in the Chaska Gateway development (Audubon and CR-61)
    • MGM Liquor Warehouse has taken over Aurora Wine & Spirits in Chaska Commons
    • Farewell to thee, Gas Depot.

    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.

    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

    Math matters

    During Monday’s City Council meeting, City Administrator Matt Podhradsky was asked by Ward 2 Councilor Greg Boe what the median property tax would be if the tax rate were not increased.

    Let’s review the scenario in question.  In 2010, the median home value in Chaska was $216,216.  For 2011, they are anticipating a decrease in market value of 7.4%.  As such, the new median home value will be $200,216.  The current tax rate is 0.2189, and the new proposed tax rate is 0.2335.

    Firing up the handy-dandy Brick City Blog calculator, we see that the property tax on the median home in 2010 is $473.  For 2011 — using the reduced market value and the increased rate — the proposed property tax on the median home is $467, a reduction of $6.

    When asked by Boe what the property tax would be if the rate were not increased, Podhradsky answered it would be about $10 less, or $457.  But, that’s not correct.  In fact, if you multiply $200,216 by 0.2189, you get $438.

    I’m not attempting to imply that Podhradsky was trying to shade the truth here.  He was speaking off the top of his head.

    But people following the discussion (and those who read the Chaska Herald article that also re-prints the bad number) should be clear on what the true impact of this proposal is.  It’s not the difference between a $6 reduction in tax and a $16 reduction — it’s the difference between $6 and $35 for a $200,000 home.  And the more your home is worth, the bigger that gap gets.

    The tax rate increase will result in $300,000 more in revenue for the city than if they had left the rate where it was.  In these tough economic times, raising a regressive tax like the property tax should be the last resort.  It should be incumbent on the Council and staff to produce a budget scenario that includes no tax rate increase so that Chaska residents can weigh the trade-offs that would have to be made.

    [UPDATE 9/20]:  After reviewing my analysis and bringing it to the attention of the City Administrator, the Chaska Herald will be running a correction in this week’s paper.

    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.

    The 2011 city budget: Show us your work

    Earlier in the week, the Chaska City Council held a worksession to discuss the 2011 city budget.  Facing a significant deficit, City Administrator Matt Podhradsky laid out his plan:

    • Raise the property tax rate by 6.6% from 0.2189 to 0.2335.  The increase in the tax rate is designed to offset the 6.6% reduction in property values, leaving the city with the same tax levy as 2010 ($4.88 million)
    • 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 spending reductions total $639,000, offsetting expected increases in other areas of the budget, such as personnel (up 1.5%) and operating costs (up 2%).

    The Council will set the preliminary levy at their meeting on September 13.  The preliminary levy serves as the maximum limit for local taxation in 2011.  Approval of the final levy takes place in December.  At that time, the Council can choose to reduce the levy if it so desires.

    What the City needs to do between now and September 13 is to “show their work” on the budget.  Let’s see the figures that lead them to believe that a tax increase is the best way to deal with the budget.  If the tax rate weren’t increased, what else would have to be cut to bring the budget in balance?  City officials should show us what the tradeoffs would be, and let the people have their say.

    Windschitl unopposed; races on tap in Wards 1 and 3

    Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl will be running unopposed in November’s election, as the two-week filing period came and went without a challenger entering the ring.    Windschitl will have a full term to more fully flesh out his platform and record accomplishments before 2012.

    The two City Council races on the ballot this fall will be contested.  In Ward 1, incumbent Gino Businaro will be challenged by Scott Millard.  Ward 3 Councilor Chris Schulz will be challenged by Charles Stech.  More about these races between now and November.

    Schulz running for re-election

    It’s official:  Ward III Councilor Chris Schulz is running for re-election.

    Still no official word from Mayor Mark Windschitl, although it’s presumed he’s running.  Ward I Councilor Gino Businaro announced his re-election bid last month.

    Will anyone challenge the three incumbents?  Hearing lots of rumbles, but little concrete information…

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