City Meeting Recap – May 2015 (Second Half)

As usual, I’m continuing to play with the format of these updates.  I’m thinking now that I’ll try to do one twice per month, each one covering one Council Meeting, whatever work sessions and other meetings have not been covered yet, and any special events that I attended.  That’s the plan until next month, anyway. :)

This recap will cover the Work Sessions on May 14, 19, 20 and 28, the council meeting on May 19, the Arbor Day celebration on May 13, and the city bus tour on May 21.

Arbor Day

The city held its annual Arbor Day celebration on May 13 at Forest Park, which is right next to Forest School.  During the summer, the Parks Commission holds their meetings outside at various parks and invites neighbors to join them.  These community meetings are a great opportunity to hear from residents in an informal setting.  The night started with a cleanup of the park by volunteers, then Mayor Adams and I grilled up some hot dogs, we planted a tree in the park, and then the parks commission held their community meeting.

Bus Tour

Every other year or so the city holds a bus tour where the council, our legislators, some guests from New Hope, and members of our commissions are invited to attend.  The bus goes around the city and staff highlights current projects that are going on in the area, like street reconstructions, sewage pump replacements and playground equipment upgrades.  It’s safe to say the new playground equipment at Bassett Creek was a bigger hit with the crowd than the new sewage pump at pump station 2, but the latter is still quite important.  The bus tour is a great opportunity to go and see the projects we have been discussing, and it was a valuable experience.

Work Session Highlights

  • Funds and Fund Sources – As part of the preliminary budget discussions the council received an overview of the various funds in the city, what the balance of each fund is, and how the fund is replenished.
  • Traffic Symposium – We discussed plans for the Traffic Symposium we want to hold this fall.  During campaign season, I heard quite a few concerns about traffic- stop signs wanted, speeding through neighborhoods, etc. and so did the other two new council members.  So as part of our Citizens Connection Initiative we proposed an effort to address traffic concerns in the city in a holistic way rather than a piecemeal way.   More to come on this event as we get closer to the fall.
  • Street Parking – Another hot topic from campaign season.  I pledged to several residents that if I was elected I would bring up the topic of on-street overnight parking.  Many residents, especially in the Lee Park neighborhood expressed a desire to repeal the ban on overnight street parking.  We discussed this topic and came up with 3 potential approaches and will be seeking input on the 3 plans in the next few weeks.  The item will likely be on a council meeting agenda coming up so we can gather feedback before making a decision.
  • Commissions – We discussed commissions again, and outlined a proposal for some changes.  We’re working on creating a document that details the changes, and will be putting that out for feedback soon.
  • Blue Line Planning – A few weeks ago the Blue Line team presented to us at a work session, and the council raised several concerns about the proposed station design and placement, along with the impact on traffic.  The team addressed us again on May 14  with some updates.  I remain concerned about the traffic impact from the Blue Line, and think that running the train at street level is unacceptable.  In addition I don’t feel it is possible to accurately predict traffic patterns 25 years in the future, nor do I think the computer models that are used to “prove” how slick traffic will be are realistic.  What I do know is that in the short to medium term this project, if built, would have a massive negative effect on our city by bringing increased noise, dust, and delays from construction.  I remain unconvinced that the long term benefit would be worth the pain, and of course the massive cost to taxpayers.  That being said, if the project gets built anyway, we need to make sure it’s done right and that corners aren’t cut in an effort to artificially make the total cost look better.
  • Code Review Task Force – The council recently solicited applications for a Code Review Task Force that would look at our city code and suggest ordinances to repeal, replace, or simplify.  We had initially thought the task force would be about 10 people, but we received 14 applications and everyone was so good that we decided to increase the size to accommodate everyone.  I was extremely impressed with the group of applicants we got, and I am excited to see what they do once the task force gets up and running later this year.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Housekeeping – The majority of agenda items were what I’d call “housekeeping” items- renewing our contract with the Hennepin County Assessor’s office, approving the next steps in the alley and street reconstruction projects, and some miscellaneous budgeted items for the public works facility.
  • Water Fee Increase – The big item on the agenda was the approval of an increase to the water rates to pay for the replacement of the broken water main.  As I covered before, the water main failed much sooner than expected, and needed to be replaced.  This is the pipe that caused sinkholes in Robbinsdale twice over the last few years.  In order to pay for the replacement we needed to come up with Crystal’s share of the cost.  It was originally estimated to be $1.6 million, but the bid came in at $1.2 million.  That led to a discussion of whether we should approve a lower rate increase (like 70 cents per 1000 gallons) or keep with the $1 per 1,000 gallons we had planned.  The rate increase will generate additional revenue to cover the cost of the repair, but it will take several years to generate the whole $1.2 million.  In the meantime we have to cover the cost of the whole repair up front using other city funds.  That’s OK- we do have the liquidity to make that work, but ultimately the whole $1.2 million will have to be generated.  It was my preference that we kept with the $1 per 1,000 gallon increase so that the repayment window was as short as possible.  The 70 cent plan would have lowered the average water bill by about $1 per month, but lengthened the repayment window.  I believe that the rate we put into effect was the most responsible decision for the city’s financial health, and puts us in a good position in the future without an undue burden on our residents.  One feature of the rate increase plan was that we would freeze the rates at their new amount for a period of two years- giving everyone a break from future increases for a while.  The new rate structure passed on a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Adams dissenting.

The next council meeting is June 2.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

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