City Meeting Recap – June 2015 (Second Half)

This recap covers the June 16 council meeting, work sessions and EDA meeting, the June 17 West Metro Board Meeting and the June 30 City Code Task Force Meeting.

Work Session Highlights

  • Gaulke Pond Study – The City Engineer presented a plan to study what to do with the land that the current public works facility sits on after the new facility opens, including potentially increasing the size of Gaulke Pond.  We ultimately decided to put this on hold until we had more time to discuss it.
  • West Metro Fire Update – Chief Larson gave the council her quarterly update on the West Metro Fire district and went over the preliminary 2016 budget.
  • Point of Sale Inspections – The council discussed the current process of requiring a city inspection before selling a home in Crystal.  We gave staff direction to come up with a plan to end this process, which we will ultimately vote on at a future council meeting.  I am personally opposed to the government inserting itself in a transaction between two private individuals.  Brooklyn Park recently ended this practice, and earlier this year Eden Prairie rejected a proposal to begin performing these city inspections after opposition from citizens.
  • Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council (NWHHSC) Update – I am Crystal’s board member on NWHHSC, which is a joint powers agreement between several cities in Hennepin County.  NWHHSC has been through some major changes over the past few years and is not a financially viable organization.  It does not make sense for Crystal taxpayers to continue to fund this organization.  The council will be voting on withdrawing from NWHHSC at the next meeting.  Several other member cities will be withdrawing later this year as well.
  • Records Retention Policy – Staff presented a proposal to update our records retention policy and begin using the State General Records Retention Schedule instead of having our own unique policy.  This is a common sense change.

 

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Swearing in – The mayor swore in new Police Officer Caleb Selin.  Congratulations Officer Selin!
  • Financial Report – The city’s auditor presented the 2014 financial report.  We received an unmodified opinion, which in the unique language of financial audits, is a good thing.  You can see the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (all 139 pages of it) here.  The CAFR includes a summary of the audit.
  • Street Construction Bonds – We formally awarded the sale of the bonds for the Phase 14 Street Reconstruction project.
  • Ordinances – We held the second reading of a change in our ordinance related to utilities.  I covered that here.  We held the first reading of a change to our liquor laws to account for changes made in state law this year- allowing on-sale liquor sales at 8 AM on Sunday (the Bloody Mary Law) and allowing Sunday sales of Growlers.
  • Re-striping 81 – We formally authorized the re-striping of 81 that I wrote about here.

 

EDA Meeting

The EDA approved the sale of 2 EDA owned lots for new home sales, the optioning of a third lot for a new home sale, and authorized the acquisition of a vacant lot from the county for a huge discount.

 

West Metro Board Meeting Highlights

I am Crystal’s Council Representative on the West Metro Fire Board.

  • Officers – Because this was our annual meeting we needed to elect officers.  All current officers were re-elected.
  • 2014 Audit – West Metro also had an audit, and also received an unmodified opinion (a good thing).
  • 2016 Budget – The board approved the 2016 budget, which had a 3.44% ($67,000) increase over 2015.  Next stop is approval by the New Hope and Crystal City Councils.

 

City Code Task Force Kick-off Meeting

The City Code task force held their kick-off meeting on June 30 and I, again, could not be more impressed with the group of citizens that has assembled to give our City Code a much-needed overhaul.

The group decided to take the first 3 sections of the code and have everyone review them and come back with suggestions for the next meeting.  After that the group will tweak the process based on what they learn.

The group also had some great feedback on how the code is structured and improvements that could be made in that regard.

Stay tuned for more from this group.  It may not be a glamorous job, but I am grateful that we have a great group willing to do it.

In the Community

  • Crystal Airport Open House – June 20 and 21 – I attended the Crystal Airport Open House, both on Saturday for the kickoff party and on Sunday for the main event.  We had perfect weather, and attendance was great on Sunday.  Thanks to the Crystal Lions for all their work putting this on, and to council member Julie Deshler for all her work coordinating the event.  The picture above is of a WW2 B-25 Bomber.
  • Music in the Park – The Lions are sponsoring the return of Music in the Park this year, and the first concert was the Joey Johnson Band at Becker Park.  The next concert is 6:30 pm on Monday July 13 at Becker Park, featuring DJ Neill Turner.

In The Community:  Upcoming Events

  • Night to Unite – August 4. Download your application to host a party here.
  • Crystal Frolics is July 23-26.  New this year- Sunday is Frolics Family Day.  Get all the Frolics details here.

 

City Meeting Recap – June 2015 (First Half)

This recap covers the June 2 work sessions and Council Meeting, and the June 8 Planning Commission Meeting.

Work Session Highlights

  • Phase 15 Street Reconstruction – We discussed the Phase 15 street reconstruction project for the first of many times.  Crystal is currently in Phase 14 of a 16 phase project to reconstruct all of the streets in the city.  Phase 14 is in progress now, and 15 is scheduled for next year.  This was just a kick off of next year’s project including the preliminary project area.  The project will be located roughly around Twin Oaks Park in the North part of the city.
  • Electrical Permit Fees – We discussed making some adjustments to the process for electrical permit fees.  The fees have not been adjusted since 2010, and will raise by about 6% overall.  In addition, the permit process was simplified and the number of total permits required by residents was reduced.  New fees will go into effect on July 1 if approved at the next council meeting.
  • Security Measures for City Hall, the Community Center and the Council Chambers – Earlier this year, in response to the shooting at New Hope City Hall, the Police Chief reviewed the safety and security measures in place at city facilities.  Chief Revering came back to the council with the proposal of a few additional security measures including additional security cameras.
  • Liquor Law Changes – The council discussed changes necessary to our Liquor Laws to allow taprooms and to allow on-sale liquor at 8AM on Sundays (the Bloody Mary law).  These changes were recently approved by the legislature, but Crystal needs to change our laws to allow the activity in our city.  Proposed ordinance changes will be made at an upcoming council meeting.
  • Re-striping 81 – When Highway 81 was reconstructed it was made large enough to accommodate six lanes (three in each direction).  A previous iteration of the city council made Hennepin County agree to make the road only 4 lanes wide, and not expand to use all of the space until at least 2017, unless the current council overrode that decision.  To say it differently, the road was built for 6 lanes, but the Crystal city council only wanted to use 4 of them.  We instructed our staff to request that Hennepin County re-stripe the road to make use of all 6 lanes.  Re-striping could be in place this fall.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Crystal Frolics – The consent agenda included many items for Crystal Frolics, including the fireworks permit, a permit to close off a small part of Bass Lake Road during the fireworks, and the liquor licenses for the event.
  • Code Review Task Force – The Council appointed 14 members to the Code Review Task Force.  The Task Force will be going through our thousands of pages of city code looking for items that can be removed, combined, or simplified.  The Task Force meets for the first time at the end of June.
  • Utilities Ordinance – We approved the first reading of a minor change to our utilities ordinance that would allow Century Link and Comcast to improve their services on existing poles without being required to bury the lines, provided that the project met a few conditions, including that the lines were all in back yards.  This change was requested by the utilities, and is currently in the process of being approved in neighboring suburbs.  New lines and lines in front yard would still need to be undergrounded if they were expanded.  We also required as part of the permit process that utilities communicate with homeowners if they are doing work in the right of way adjacent to their yards.

In The Community: Event Highlights

  • CBA Business Expo – I attended the Crystal Business Association’s first annual business expo at the Community Center on June 6.
  • Basset Creek Park Cleanup – The Crystal Fund for Community Progress sponsored a clean up of Bassett Creek Park on May 30.  Councilmember Olga Parsons and I took the area around the pond.  Overall the park was in really good shape, but we still found some trash in the long grass around the pond. (Picture above)
  • RiverTree School Shakespeare FestivalRiverTree School is a private school located in Ward 2 of Crystal, at 38th Ave and Vera Cruz.  The school put on a Shakespeare Festival on the last day of school, June 5.  It was a great time!  Councilmember Elizabeth Dahl has a daughter who attends the school.  I’ll make you click to see her in a slightly more formal getup than she usually wears at the council meetings.

In The Community:  Upcoming Events

  • 2015 Crystal Airport Open House – Father’s Day Weekend.  Great fun for the whole family.  Bring Dad!
  • Night to Unite – August 4. Download your application to host a party here.
  • Shred It At The Heathers – Shred your confidential documents for free with donations of food to the food shelf, Saturday June 20 at The Heathers.  Details here.

The next council meeting is June 16.

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.

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.

Week In Review – May 2015, Week 2

The Crystal City Council had two work sessions, a Council Meeting, an EDA meeting, and a bus tour sponsored by the Parks Commission during May 2015 week 2 (week beginning May 3).

Work Session Highlights

  • Charter Commission – The council met with three candidates for an open position on the city’s Charter Commission.  The Charter Commission reviews potential changes to the city’s charter, which can kind of be thought of as the Constitution for the city. There were three applicants- two former council members, and a third who is currently a member of the Parks Commission.  This commission is unique, in that the council doesn’t select the members, but instead the selection is done by a judge.  The council still likes to meet with the applicants to learn a bit more about them and thank them for applying.  We were informed earlier this week that the judge had selected Nancy LaRoche (the aforementioned Parks Commissioner) as the new Charter Commissioner, so congratulations to Nancy.
  • Boulevards/Right-Of-Way – One of the most confusing things that I deal with, and something that I get a lot of questions on, is the right-of-way.  Since she did such a good job of recapping this discussion, I’ll excerpt from my colleague Olga Parsons’ recap:

    Per the request of several council members, we received a primer on the differences of public right-of-way, boulevards, easement, and private property.  This issue has surfaced several times since I have taken office, primarily as a question about trees located in the boulevard- who is responsible to take care of trees located in your front yard, but not exactly on your private property?  Why do some residents find new trees planted in their yard without their consent?  This issue is also at play with the planned Three Rivers Park District bike project.  Many people, myself included, are unsure exactly where their private property line is drawn.  The city and county are able to use a part of your front yard for their purpose, and this arrangement can be unwelcome and distressing to many residents.  Boulevards and Public Right of Way are city property, and are reserved for city and public use. Boulevard is generally the area between your property line and the curb, and Right of Way is the entire street (and sidewalk area).  Residents do not pay taxes on the this piece of land, but are responsible for the Boulevard’s upkeep (mowing the grass, shoveling, etc).

    This topic can be quite confusing, so if you have any questions, let me know.

  • Boulevard Trees - We also briefly discussed trees that are located in the boulevard- so technically on city property, but for all intents and purposes in your front yard.  This has been a hot topic of conversation, as Olga mentioned above.  Our city staff, led by our new City Engineer, is working on a proposal to clarify the polices related to boulevard trees, so more to come on that.
  • Water Main Repair Financing - I covered this about a month ago, but Crystal has to come up with an unplanned $1.5 million to repair the water main that runs under Robbinsdale.  This is the pipe that has broken twice in two years and created sinkholes in our neighboring city.  Several options were proposed, but the option that seemed to be preferred was a rate increase of $1 per 1000 gallons of water used to go into effect immediately, and then freezing water rates for 2 years.  We’ll be covering the upfront cost by moving some money from the sewer fund to the water fund, and then gradually paying back the funds over the next few years.  We looked at about 15 different proposals, and this one was the only one that didn’t put undue strain on the water fund.  I also like the certainty of knowing that rates will stay steady for the next few years.  We’ll be voting on the final plan to make it official at the next meeting.
  • Commissions - The council is continuing our ongoing conversations about city commissions.  The conversation will continue in about 2 weeks.  I would like to stress that no decisions have been made on anything, and that I am seeking feedback from anyone with an opinion on the topic.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Pledge of Allegiance – I was contacted by Brian Lindahl, a Boy Scout who lives in Ward 2 and is working on a merit badge that requires him to discuss a current issue with an elected official.  We discussed the proposed rail connection prior to the meeting, and I invited him to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance, which he skillfully did.
  • Police Awards – Police Chief Stephanie Revering presented two awards- one to Officer Tim Tourville who received the MADD award for efforts to decrease drunk driving, and one to Officer Mason Barland who won the Meritorious Service Award from the MN Chiefs of Police Association.  Congratulations to both!
  • Alley Construction Project – We held the public hearing for this year’s alley reconstruction project, which is part of a long term project to reconstruct all of the alleys in the city.  We heard from a few citizens during the public hearing.  This project will come up for two more votes before it is complete.
  • Three Rivers Trail – I’ll send you over to my colleague Elizabeth Dahl’s website for a recap of this, since and she did a great of summarizing what happened.  Almost all of the trail will go through Ward 1, which Elizabeth represents.

EDA Meeting Highlights

  • Only one item on the agenda- acceptance of an proposal by Novak-Flek to option a vacant lot for redevelopment.  Novak-Flek has developed several lots in Crystal, and are entering into an option agreement (basically reserving the lot) to develop later.

Parks Tour

On Wednesday, May 6 I joined the Parks Commission (and my wife, who currently chairs the commission) on a bus tour of eight of our city parks.  The commission is working on a long range plan for our parks, and this tour was an opportunity for them to visit the parks together and share some of their vision with members of the council.  The commission has a lot of work to do to ensure that our parks continue to meet the needs of our residents well into the future.  I am excited to see the long range plan they come up with.

 

The next council meeting is May 19, and the next work session is Tomorrow (May 14).

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.

Week in Review – April 2015, Week 4

The Crystal City Council had one work session, a council meeting, and citizen input time during April 2015 week 4 (week beginning April 20).

Citizen Input Time

During the non-summer months, the city council hosts Citizen Input time once per month.  Citizen input time is an open time for citizens to come in and bring up items of concern to the council.  It’s a much more relaxed and less formal setting than a regular council meeting, so that makes it a good time to just come and discuss whatever is on your mind.  During the summer months, we take the show on the road, so to speak, and attend community meetings in select parks.  You can find the schedule on the city’s website.

This month we heard from three residents.  One wanted to discuss an ongoing issue with a pond in her backyard, one wanted to discuss an unfortunate issue she experienced with a subcontractor for Centerpoint Energy related to the street reconstruction project, and one wanted to speak about some concerns he had with the maintenance of the road in front of his house.

City staff is continuing to work on the pond, followed up with Centerpoint regarding the issues with the contractor, and we have a crew looking into the road situation.

The council receives regular updates about ongoing issues which were brought forth by citizens during our regular work sessions every other Tuesday.  This is a new process we instituted this year to ensure no citizen concerns are falling through the cracks and going unaddressed.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Moment of Silence - We began the meeting with a moment of silence for Barway Collins.  The mayor followed that up by thanking the Crystal Police Department, and especially Chief Stephanie Revering for their work to quickly resolve the case.
  • Lynn Haney Day – Mayor Adams declared May 8, 2015 Lynn Haney Day in Crystal.  Lynn is the President of the Crystal Frolics* and has been on the Parks Commission since 1997, volunteering countless hours to our city.  This was much deserved recognition for Lynn.  *In case you didn’t know, Crystal Frolics is a non-profit organization run by community volunteers.
  • Phase 14 Assessments – Tuesday’s meeting was when we held the official public hearing prior to setting the special assessment for the Phase 14 street reconstruction project.  Crystal is in phase 14 of 16 of a project that will reconstruct every street in the city- the project has been going on for many years.  We heard directly from about 10 residents, and a few more submitted letters.  There was a fairly clear consensus from the council and the crowd that after the final two phases are completed, the council will need to reconsider the policy of using special assessments for street construction.  I am not in favor of special assessments- I think they are a hidden tax.  I also struggle to understand (as did several residents) what our tax dollars go to if they aren’t used to maintain our roads.  However, I do not support changing course with only 3 phases out of 16 remaining, so we will have to get through these final 3 phases using the existing process.
  • Water Main – We passed a resolution saying that we would fund our share of the water main replacement project that will happen later this summer.  We have not yet decided where we’ll get the $1.6 million.  That discussion is ongoing.  All we said was that we’ll get it somewhere, which will allow the project to go forward.  I covered this topic in the work session section of my last review.

Work Session Highlights

Only one item on the agenda this week and that was a discussion of CenturyLink’s application to get a cable franchise that would serve Crystal (we’re in a franchise area that includes several surrounding cities) .  The open questions are 1) should CenturyLink be required to serve all residents of the area within 5 years, as the predecessor to the predecessor to the predecessor to Comcast was required to do in the 1980s?  and 2) What amount should CenturyLink be required to donate to support Channel 12 and NWCTV?  Comcast paid $300,000 when they signed their last 10 year agreement.  Ultimately these questions will be resolved by the Northwest Suburban Cable Communications Commission.  Crystal has two representatives on that commission.

 

The next council meeting is May 5.

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.

Week in Review – April 2015, Week 2

The Crystal City Council had three work sessions, a council meeting, and an EDA meeting during the second week of April, 2015.  In addition, there was a West Metro Fire Board meeting on Wednesday the 8th.

I’m continuing to play around with the format of my recaps to see what works best, so here goes.

Work Session Highlights

  • Blue Line Technical Issues – We met with Blue Line staff to discuss a report regarding some technical issues with the station that would be located in Crystal.  I had, and still have, serious concerns about the traffic impact that the Blue Line would bring to Crystal, especially in light of recent developments with freight rail.  The report from the Blue Line team did not adequately address my concerns.  This will be an ongoing process.
  • Phase 14 Street Reconstruction – We met with engineers to discuss the cost of the Phase 14 street reconstruction project.  This is happening in the north part of the city and is part of the ongoing street reconstruction program.  Costs are in line with what was expected.  Residents affected directly by this project are receiving communication from the city about what they need to do and when.
  • MAC Park – In what was the highlight of the week, a group of citizens came in and gave a presentation about MAC Park and what they would like to see done in the park in the short and long term.  It was really cool to see an organized group of citizens come in and have a very productive conversation with their elected officials.  They even brought a friend from Germany who wanted to see what an American city council was like!  We will be connecting them with the Parks commission to ensure their feedback is incorporated into the long range plan for the parks.
  • Water Main Funding – As you’re probably aware, we have a water main that needs emergency repairs.  It’s the one that created sinkholes in Robbinsdale twice in two years.  The pipe is currently not being used and we’re running without a backup.  We share our water system with New Hope and Golden Valley.  Our share of the cost to repair the main is about $1.5 million, and because this pipe was not expected to need replacement for many more years, we don’t have the $1.5 million in the bank saved up for this repair.  We do have money in other city funds so that we can essentially loan ourselves the money for the repair, but then we have to replenish these funds.  The logical place to come up with the additional funding is through an increase in water usage fees.  We’re currently looking at a few plans regarding how large the increase needs to be to cover the costs in a reasonable amount of time.  Stay tuned.
  • Advisory Commissions – We had the first of what will most likely be many conversations about how advisory commissions work in Crystal, which ones work, which ones don’t (and why), what the role of commissions is, and what this should all look like in the future.  We have homework, and are scheduling the next round of talks soon.  Bottom line, we want to make sure we have a clear understanding of the roles of commissions in our city, where our needs are, and make sure we’re meeting those needs.  Council member Dahl has done a ton of research on this topic in comparing what Crystal does to other cities, and in researching the history of various commissions.  In addition, Mayor Adams and I had a meeting this week in Shakopee, which has a very successful commissions program, to see what we could learn from them.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Board of Appeal and Equalization Meeting – we held a Board of Appeal and Equalization Meeting, which is the first place you need to go if you want to appeal your property’s valuation or classification.  I wrote about that here.  We didn’t have any citizens petition the board directly this year.
  • Blue Line Committees – We appointed two citizens and two business representatives to two new committees created for the Blue Line project.  We had many great applicants for these positions.  We appointed John Slama and Denny Walsh as Crystal’s representatives to the Blue Line Extension Business Advisory Committee, and Justin Youngbluth and Gene Bakke as our representatives to the Community Advisory Committee.
  • Three Rivers Park Trail – We were presented with a resolution in support of Three Rivers applying for a grant from Hennepin County to complete the Bassett Creek Regional Trail.  Although this project has been going on for many years, this is the first time many members of the council have ever been involved with it, or have had to take a vote on it.  After some discussion with Three Rivers Park staff we voted to continue the motion until the next meeting so we had time as a council to engage with residents about the project before taking a vote.  In addition, council member Parsons and I have a meeting with Three Rivers next week to get some more information about the project.  We’ll take a final vote at either the next council meeting or the one after that.
  • Becker Park Improvements – We approved funding for cleaning and painting of the building at Becker Park, and for resurfacing of the tennis courts.  There was $75,000 in the budget this year for a new fence, but the fence ended up only costing about $30,000 (we were able to reuse the old poles).  With all three projects we are still under the $75k that was in the budget.

EDA Highlights

  • Lot Sales – We held two public hearings regarding sales of EDA owned lots to builders.  There were no public comments and both sales were approved.  That’s two more brand new houses on formerly empty lots in Crystal!
  • Lot Acquisition – We authorized staff to begin the process of acquiring a lot in Crystal that is currently owned by the County so the EDA can redevelop it.  If we acquire it, the lot could be used for either commercial purposes (a small office building) or for single family homes.

West Metro Fire Board

  • Capital Purchases – We approved the purchase of capital equipment that was in the budget for this year including a garage door, an air compressor, and turn out gear for the newly hired firefighters.
  • Budget – West Metro’s budget process starts very early because it needs to be approved by both the New Hope and Crystal city councils and figured into the city budgets.  The preliminary budget looks like a $67,000 increase which is about 3.4%.  Crystal would pay about half of that.  Budget talks will continue.  The budget must be approved by July 31.
  • Strategic Planning – The board discussed scheduling work sessions to complete strategic planning for West Metro.  We haven’t started the strategic planning yet- at this point we’re talking about how to develop the process for developing the strategic plan.  No word on if we’ll need a strategic plan for that.  I kid.  (Sort of.)  It’s important that there is clear vision for West Metro, but the added bureaucracy that comes with a shared department and the challenges of wrangling players from two cities is becoming very apparent.

The next council meeting is April 21, which also includes citizen input time.

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.

And for a different take on the meetings, check out council member Parson’s site.

“Citizen Connection Initiative” – The First 100 Days

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 16, 2015

Significant Progress Made Toward Goals; Work to Continue

Crystal, MN – In January 2015, incoming Crystal City Councilmembers Olga Parsons (Section II), Elizabeth Dahl (Ward 1) and Jeff Kolb (Ward 2) announced the creation of the “Citizen Connection Initiative,” a program designed to guide their priorities and decision making throughout their term in office.

April 16 represents 100 days since the three new council members were sworn in, and there is much progress to report on the initiative.

“We are pleased to announce that the Citizen Connection Initiative was embraced by most of our colleagues on the council, and with their support we have accomplished several of the initial goals we identified,” said Parsons.

Key initiatives already accomplished include:

  • Implementing new council rules to govern the council in a responsible manner
  • Implementing a new tracking system to monitor feedback from residents
  • Testing a new interview process for boards and commissions
  • Sending thank you notes to citizens who speak at council meetings
  • Began the Plain Language Initiative to streamline communications from the city to residents
  • Restructuring work sessions to include dedicated time to discuss issues raised by residents
  • Establishing an Ordinance Review Task Force to streamline outdated ordinances
  • Kept residents informed about key issues, such as the proposed rail connection, through various channels

“While we have accomplished many of our initial goals, there is still much work to be done, and we intend to keep the focus on serving the residents of Crystal and maintaining a customer service focus in the city” said Dahl.

Ongoing and upcoming initiatives include:

  • Reevaluating the structure and goals of city commissions and boards
  • More neighborhood meetings throughout the summer
  • A traffic symposium scheduled for this fall
  • A long term branding and communications strategy

“Our goal was to make the Crystal City Government more transparent, open, and responsive to its citizens, and I think we are making good progress,” said Kolb. “I look forward to building on our success over the next few years.”

As a reminder Initial steps to the Citizen Connection Initiative included a pledge by all three incoming councilmembers to do the following:

  • Maintain a personal website where they will post information about key votes made by the council
  • Maintain a Facebook presence where residents can interact with their representative
  • Post occasional updates to Nextdoor.com about relevant community meetings
  • Strive for a 72 hour or less response time to citizen inquiries

For more information on the Citizen Connection Initiative contact the individual councilmembers using the contact information below:

Olga Parsons
612-217-2337
olga.parsons@crystalmn.gov
www.olgaparsons.com

Elizabeth Dahl
612-567-3353
elizabeth.dahl@crystalmn.gov
www.dahlward1.com

Jeff Kolb
612-314-5652
jeff.kolb@crystalmn.gov
www.jeff-kolb.com

How To Appeal Your Property Valuation Or Classification

2015 Property Valuation Notices began hitting mailboxes in the past few weeks, and if you haven’t received yours yet, you should be getting it very soon.

The Property Valuation Notice indicates the value and classification that will be used to set the property taxes that will be due in 2016. The valuation is the amount that will be used to calculate your property taxes, and the classification is how your property is classified for tax purposes.  (Examples of classifications include residential, commercial, agricultural, or rental housing.)

Once you receive your valuation notice, you have two options:

  1. You can accept the valuation and classification as is, in which case you don’t need to do anything.
  2. You can appeal your valuation or classification.

Last week the Crystal City Council met with assessors from Hennepin County to get an overview of the process for appeals of valuation or classification.

First, it’s important to understand that the valuation of a property is based off of an appraisal, which is an estimate of the value of the property at a point in time- January 2 of each year.  There is always a lag time between the appraisal and the valuation notice.  Valuations rely heavily on the sales of comparable properties in the area during the appraisal time period.  In addition, state law requires that properties are only inspected by assessors once every 5 years, so your valuation may be based on an old inspection.

So there are many reasons why the valuation of your property in your Valuation Notice may not reflect the current market conditions and could be higher or lower than you expect.

With that in mind, if you feel that your property value should be higher or lower, the first step in the appeal process is to contact the local assessor.

Step 1: Contact the local assessor
You can call the local assessor at 763-531-1117.

You can contact the assessor at any time with questions about your valuation, or the appeal process, but if you are planning to appeal your valuation, you should gather some supporting evidence to back up your position.  This could include:

  • A recent appraisal of your property
  • Recent sales of similar property in the area
  • Photos of your property
  • Photos or exhibits comparing neighboring properties to yours

If, after working with the local assessor, you cannot come to an agreement on a change to the valuation, you can appeal to the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization.

Step 2: Appeal to the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization (LBAE)

In Crystal, the LBAE is really just the city council.  We convene a meeting under a different statutory authority, but it’s the same group of people.

In 2015, our LBAE meeting is 7:00 PM on April 7 at Crystal City Hall.

Property owners can come to the LBAE meeting and appeal their valuation or classification directly to the LBAE.  You are not required to work with an assessor before the meeting, but it’s helpful if you do.  You will most likely be required to work with an assessor after the meeting anyway.

If you don’t want to appear personally at the LBAE meeting, you can submit your appeal in writing in advance of the LBAE meeting instead.

The LBAE can act to raise or lower your valuation based on the facts that are presented.

Step 3: Appeal to the County Board of Appeal and Equalization (CBAE)

If the LBAE doesn’t resolve your concerns to your satisfaction, you can appeal to the County Board of Appeal and Equalization.

Information on this process is located on the back of your Valuation Notice.  Note that you do need to contact the CBAE to get on the agenda, so you have to plan ahead if you plan to appeal to this level.

Optional Step: Minnesota Tax Court

You also have the right to resolve your case in MN tax court.

Information on this process is located on the back of your Valuation Notice.

I hope that this helps explain what can be a confusing process.  For more information, you can check out this fact sheet from the MN Department of Revenue, or contact your local assessor at 763-531-1117.

Council Meeting Recap, March 17, 2015

The Crystal City Council held Citizen’s Input Time, two work sessions, an EDA meeting, and a council meeting on March 17, 2015.

Because of time restraints I’m going to do a slightly abbreviated recap this week, focusing on two of the major issues we discussed at the council meeting.  My colleague Olga Parsons did a more comprehensive recap and I’ll send you over to her site for more details.

I do want to point out before I start that this was a fairly unique meeting in that we had three members absent.  Two were sick, and one had planned out of town travel.  One of the absent members was Mayor Adams, which meant that council member Julie Deshler, who is Mayor Pro Tem this year, acted as mayor for this meeting.

The two major issues I want to discuss are tobacco/alcohol penalties, and a cooperative agreement with Hennepin County.

State law requires that stores that sell tobacco be licensed by a city, or in areas where cities don’t do the licensing, by the county.  The law also requires that at least annually, the city (or county) perform compliance checks to make sure stores are not selling to underage individuals.

When an individual sells tobacco to a person who is under age, the individual is personally charged with a crime. In addition to charging the seller with a crime personally, state law requires cities to charge an administrative penalty to the holder of the tobacco license.  The state law proscribes a minimum penalty, but allows cities to adopt their own, stricter penalties.

The laws governing alcohol are a bit different, but most cities, including Crystal, have implemented compliance checks and civil penalties for license holders who violate the laws regarding the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors.

After the person who illegally sold the item has pled or been found guilty of the criminal act, the civil portion of the process is begun and the item will come before the city council.

The council has adopted guidelines for civil penalties by ordinance. The guidelines for a first violation are for a fine of up to $750, and loss of license for up to one day, and get more severe from there, ending with a revocation after the fourth violation within 36 months.  These are only guidelines.  The council has the discretion to adjust the penalties up or down based on the circumstances of each case, provided they don’t go lower than state law allows ($75 on a first tobacco offense).

There are a few instances where the council must act in what’s called a “quasi-judicial” manner, meaning that although council members are not judges in a court, they do act in a similar way.  They must have open minds, they can’t prejudge a matter, they must consider the circumstances of the matter in front of them, they can’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner.  Considering civil penalties is one of those instances.

Both of the incidents in front of the council were first time offenders, one for tobacco, one for alcohol.  Both failed their compliance checks.  Both made significant changes to their business processes to ensure they would not make a second offense.  One owner (tobacco) changed store policy to not allow anyone under 21 in the store, and the other (alcohol) bought and installed new software that wouldn’t allow a sale to complete until a valid ID was swiped into the cash register.

I voted in favor of a $750 fine for each business.  This is 10 times the state minimum required for tobacco violations.  The council was unanimous on the tobacco violation, and had one dissenting vote on the alcohol violation, with Mayor Pro Tem Deshler preferring a one day suspension of the alcohol license in addition to the fine.

I was really on the fence about the alcohol violation, and almost supported the license suspension.  However, the mitigating measure implemented by the owner (requiring a swiped ID at the point of sale) seemed very likely to prevent a second offense.

The second item I want to discuss is the adoption of a cooperative agreement between the City of Crystal and Hennepin County on the purchase of land that would be involved in the proposed rail connection in Crystal.

Hennepin County announced on March 11 that they had secured a purchase agreement for the land in the 5100 block of West Broadway, where Thomas Auto Body and North Suburban Towing currently sit.  This is the land the railroad would need to acquire in order to build the connection.

However, there was a question about whether Hennepin County had the authority to purchase this land outright.  The attorneys at the county felt that they would have the authority if they purchased the land under a cooperative agreement as authorized under MN law in section 383B.79.

This meant that the county would not (and maybe could not) purchase the land if Crystal did not sign a cooperative agreement.

I had, and still have, several concerns about this approach.  For one, the city of Crystal did not cooperate in a material way with the county in the acquisition of the land.  The entire deal was done by the county, and Crystal council members and staff were notified of the deal at a public rail meeting at the same time everyone else was.  I didn’t want to have the city sign a document that overstated our role in the process.

My other major concern is that I wanted to make sure that it was perfectly clear that the county was responsible for this purchase, including the full cost of acquisition and any legal costs that may arise out of the purchase.  I fully expect a legal challenge in this case, and I wasn’t going to commit the citizens of Crystal to a potentially expensive legal battle without some serious discussions about it, which were not had before this agreement was presented to us.

The initial draft of the agreement that was presented for us to vote on did not include any explicit language regarding Crystal’s financial obligations.  In fact, the entire agreement was quite vague.

All of my colleagues that were present at the meeting expressed similar reservations, and it was clear that the agreement would not be accepted in its current format.

Because the county was saying they would not purchase the property until we signed the agreement, this was a time sensitive manner.  We voted to continue the meeting from Tuesday night until Thursday night and asked for a new draft of the agreement that addressed our concerns.

The document that was presented when we reconvened included a statement that explicitly addressed that Crystal has no financial or legal obligation toward the project.  It also included some other clarifying language to address our other concerns.

The proposed agreement was passed by the council unanimously (by the members present, we were still short two members due to travel and illness).

I do believe that the county’s acquisition of the land was a good tactical move as we attempt to negotiate through the situation with the railroad connection.  But that said, the acquisition is not a “silver bullet”.  The matter is not resolved, and most likely will not be for some time.

It will require the attention and focus of the citizens of Crystal to keep themselves, and their elected officials at all levels, engaged in this process until it is ultimately resolved.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank council member Juile Deshler for her great work this past week.  As I mentioned above Julie is the Mayor Pro Tem which means that she has to step up when the Mayor is unavailable.  While Jim was at home with a nasty case of pneumonia, Julie had to run two council meetings, a few work sessions, deliver a State of the City address, and testify down at the capitol on rail safety.   She encountered a big unexpected challenge and really stepped up to the task.  Thanks Julie!