Podcast: Kathleen ‘Mac’ McBride on the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP); citizen input needed

Ross Currier, Tracy Davis, Kathleen 'Mac' McBrideKathleen ‘Mac’ McBride, the City of Northfield’s EOF (Empress of Finance) was our guest this week. (She’s also known as the city’s Finance Director).

We mainly talked about the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that’s currently in draft form, awaiting further input from citizens.

Mac sent us her CIP PowerPoint presentation from the 6/2 public hearing and alerted us to the CIP docs on the City’s website. (See links to many Northfield-related documents on the Locally Grown Documents page.)

CIP-cover-sshot CIP-ppt-cover-sshot CIP-feedbackform-sshot

Here’s another way to view her CIP Powerpoint presentation. Click on any page and you’ll be taken to a larger Flash version of the document.

And here’s the audio of the podcast:

Click play to listen. 30 minutes. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe directly with iTunes. Our radio show/podcast, Locally Grown, usually airs Wednesdays at 5:30 PM on KYMN 1080 AM.

As for citizen input on the CIP, feel free to ask questions and comment here.

34 thoughts on “Podcast: Kathleen ‘Mac’ McBride on the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP); citizen input needed”

  1. RANDY J! Are you out there?

    I have to admit I am sort of surprised that there are no comments on the site, because I’ve had several comments in real life from people who thought the show was great. As I suspected, Mac has a fan club.

    I realize that the Capital Improvement Plan may seem daunting, but really, I know everybody in Northfield has opinions about how the City spends money and on what. We’ve had some rousing discussions here on LoGro about the library, the liquor store, the safety center, etc. etc. So why isn’t anyone chiming in?

    I hope no one complains later about “not knowing” what the city is up to in terms of projects and priorities. Now is the chance to get up to speed, ask questions, make your points!

  2. Thanks for the nudge, Tracy.

    It seems like it would be helpful to have a list of which projects are ‘done deals’ and which the public still might have some say-so on influencing re: timing, priority, size, etc.

    For example, the major renovation of City Hall for 2008… that went to the top of the list without much public input, didn’t it? And it’s a done deal, isn’t it?

  3. The City Hall renovation project is still in “the works.” Plans and specs are being prepared. Approval of the plans / authorization to advertise / financing are yet to go to Council.

    The new Liquor Store project is moving along and will be discussed at the July Council work session.

    I have a question, though. If the City is doing a joint project with the County – like Woodley Street, what should be shown in the City’s capital improvement plan? Just the City’s share of the cost or the full cost of the project with the offsetting financing sources? Showing the full cost in the numbers inflates our plan, but provides full information.

    Thanks to you three for allowing me the opportunity for the podcast.

  4. Okeh, this is why this citizen journalism thing can sometimes be so hard on me. 39 comments on Sleazewear and 3 comments on the Capital Improvement Plan.

    Let’s try again. Did you hear Mac say that 30% of city property taxes currently go to servicing debt?

    With what we all agreed are round numbers, out-going City Administration Al Roder suggested that our debt capacity was about $28 million and that we had used about about $4 million. Mac didn’t argue with the summary, as long as we all continued to agree that they were very round numbers.

    Al said that Mac’s prudent level of actual debt to potential capacity was 65%. Mac said that depending on various assumptions, that could be considered a reasonable percentage.

    My quick and dirty calculations says that $18 million is 65% of $28 million, we’ve already used $4 million, so that leaves us $14 million. Mac said that I’m kind of hung up on that $14 million. Yeah, maybe I am.

    The City Council has a $50 million, or so, Capital Improvement Plan, to be implemented over five years. The Council has already started working on the prioritization of projects.

    It appears that they’ve committed to spending about $1 million on the City Hall and seem to support spending $6 million on the Safety Center. There’s also been much talk about spending some money on the Public Library, either a major expansion or a completely new building. Although hockey players and their supporters have advocated for a new facility, right now the City is just pursuing the repair of the existing facility.

    I guess my point is that $14 million won’t go very far or last very long. Prioritization might be of interest to Northfield’s citizens too.

    Mac said that the full plan will increase the property taxes going for municipal debt on a $200,000 home from $115 to $410 per year. A less than $300 annual increase seems fairly reasonable, at least to me, depending on what I’m getting for my money.

    The opportunity for public input will come and go, even quicker than the $14 million. Help the Council out on this important matter by speaking up sooner, in the next few months, instead of later, as in waiting until the final hour and saying “Nobody asked me”.

    So, if there’s anyone out there besides me that cares about this topic, please join the discussion. Otherwise, maybe I should turn my attention to inappropriate clothing worn by the young and restless of all ages.

  5. The city hall renovation that’s “in the work’s” included, last I heard, putting a new council chambers in the old gym. I said it at a council meeting I’ll say it again here- of all the things the city needs, it does NOT need a new council chambers.

    Oh yes once in a blue moon, when you swear in three police officers and throw in a public hearing you can get an overflow crowd. But why not spend money on improving the overflow seating like a few folding chairs or benches to sit on like upstairs? How about a T.V. that is mounted lower than the height of an NBA basketball hoop.

    They just finished spending $100,000 on a state of the art audio/video make over for the council chambers. $100,000, you’d think they would have made it possible for people to stay home and watch a webcast of the council meeting. So the options are – go to the meeting in person or watch it later on cable, if you get cable, which I don’t. So I guess if I wanted the city not to spend money moving the council chambers I should stop attending meetings, then it wouldn’t be so crowded.

    The late Don Starr had a real good plan for city hall with the old gym being the main entrance and offices radiating out from there. Did Hay, Dobbs even see it? How much did we pay Hay Dobbs for the space study? How much do we pay them to develop yet another set of plans and specsifications? Many plans have been done for city hall, is this one better than the rest? Many plans have been sought, paid for and put on the shelf. The shelf life on plans is almost as short as the shelf life of staff. But never fear, hire new staff, new staff will hire a new consultant, and the new consultant will reinvent the wheel, for a price.

    Where is the institutional memory? It costs money every time you jump on the merry go round. Since the city has done this many times I guess that means the city has plenty ‘o’ money, and I should’t be so cheap.

    Go ahead put offices in the old gym but don’t create a new taj macouncil.

    It escapes me now, but tomorrow as I celebrate the 4th of July with mom & apple pie, I’ll try to remember that stuff I learned way back in 5th grade history ( in the very same building) about benevolent despots and taxation without representation.

  6. What happened to letting people vote on improvements? A bond issue for city hall went down in the early 90’s but the library referendum passed. There was no vote on the Pool. There was no vote on the million dollar areana improvements.

    It’s prudent to spend 30% of your income on housing yet alot of people are running into alot of problems lately. Foreclosures all around even in good old Northfield, matter of fact two just recently in my neighborhood. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    The council has raised taxes year after year but this year some home values have dropped which means an even higher tax rate to keep the same level of service. Where’s the breaking point? I don’t have a crystal ball but right now I would be a little gun shy about spending all the way up to my prudent debt limit.

    Is silence acceptance or apathy?

  7. Ross, I think people aren’t commenting because it seems pretty straightforward, with $1 million to keep city hall functioning, $6 million for a safety center and whatever is left for the library. I would caution, however, that it might be better to get a real plan for the library and wait until the full amount can be raised, rather than do a patch job for $4 million.
    Without significant success in broadening the tax base, it seems the city is to strapped for cash to do more.
    There isn’t really much to discuss.

  8. Last night’s council meeting had financial implications for the city.
    Mr. Roder is requesting a severance payment, maybe up to six months salary, to fulfill “the spirit” of his contract. (I take it from that comment that there is no severance specified with a resignation, but the attorney present did not have a copy of the contract with which to inform the council.) The council said they will entertain the idea of that amount of severance.

    Additionally, Mr. Roder requested that ALL of his legal fees resulting from the criminal investigation filed last summer by former police Chief Smith, and ongoing in Goodhue County, be reimbursed in full. The council passed a resolution last summer to cover the first $7500 of the fees, but that figure has already been exceeded by extra payments of approximately $2000, and there are unpaid bills of $6500 outstanding.

    Where will this money be found, if the council votes to approve these two requests from Mr. Roder?  This year. the Finance Director has already had to deal with repaying the Hospital the PERA payments that never got to them; then there’s the 2-3 MILLION of lost CDs in the St. Louis embezzlement case … Half a year’s salary and open ended legal fees might just wipe that city hall renovation off the priority list.

    And meanwhile, there’s the sorely needed new fire truck, close to a million dollars, to replace the 30-year old truck for which replacement parts don’t exist, and doesn’t provide the safety our fireman deserve; to say nothing of threatening the entire town’s ISO rating, which is a defining factor in all our home fire insurance policies.

    So … if you , in considering your home finances, are “hunkering down”, driving less, are worried about the economy nationally and locally… maybe you should tell your council person to think again about taking a more thoughtful position, rather than listening and giving in to threats of possible personnel lawsuits, and dreaming of a renovated city hall when we must replace a fire truck.

  9. Maybe I”m missing the larger point, but it seems to me that there are a couple of significant discussions that should take place. Such as:

    “What are the debt limits Northfield will agree to adhere to given best practices?”

    “What is our wish list for what to do?”

    Then, given the answers to the previous questions, “What are the priorities and their respective price tags?”

    I still don’t know the answer to #1, haven’t seen #2 (although I believe it exists somewhere), and we’re clearly failing on #3.

  10. David Delong: You were always the fiscal watchdog on the council; I bet you still look at the disbursements as they appear… Who would have paid the overage/unapproved extra thousands on Mr. Roder’s legal fees?

    Maren Swanson, says she only paid the approved amount, and even without her saying it, I believed that would be the case.

  11. Kiffi: Yes you are correct, I submitted my data request for the information on those legal fees on Monday the 30th. I haven’t heard back yet. However as I catch up on things now that I am back in town, I see others have been given the information.

    You also might find Minn. statute 465.76 an interesting read. it’s title is [ may pay for officer or employee’s criminal defense] The first words of subdivision (1) are- If lawfully doing duty. The section says a city may reimburse legal fees. My question for the council was- he hadn’t incured any fees how can you reimburse someone for some thing that hasn’t been done? This requirement was explained away, apparently to the councils satisfaction, as they approved the resolution.

    What happens to the legal fees that have been paid by the council if perhaps there is something to the “Goodhue matter” The city needs to indemnify it’s employees (MN Stat. 466.07) but only if the employee was not guilty of malfeasance in office, willful neglect of duty, or bad faith. According to the Northfield News
    “Roder has maintained he hasn’t been in contact with investigators.”

    13-14 thousand in fees now, how much more when he does start talking to them?

    The Northfield News contacted Roder’s attorney David Lillehaug for comment on Friday, if the council approves a blank check does that mean we pay 490.00 an hour to have an attoney say that their client has done nothing wrong? Not many attorneys that I know tell the press yeah my client says he’s not guilty but he really is. I don’t know if this is included in the unpaid pile of bills but I suppose you could justify it as reasonable. You could also justify a large severance package. It’s just not what I would do but you can’t blame a guy for trying. Personally I don’t write out any blank checks, but this council has done alot of things most people wouldn’t.

  12. I agree Tracy – I have not seen much of the wish list or the rational between the choices. A new fire truck when the existing one is 30 years old seems easy to justify.

    How much safer will a new safety center make us ?

    I love books and libraries but I have rarely felt crowded when at the library (although they probably do need more computers) (maybe they have their own funds for most of this project ?). Could they extend hours ?

    I am not a big skater but the ice arena is uncomfortable and junky – one would have to think in Northfield the demand would exist for a better center.

    I would think an organized discussion at the Grand would where the Northfield citizens take the lead in raising ideas and asking questions (rather than a lobbying effort by special interests) would engage the public’s interest.

  13. David H, I’m not sure there’s enough citizen interest yet to do a LG F2F forum.

    But I think doing an online straw poll might be a good first step. If we can get folks to participate in that, then a F2F forum might be warranted.

    So how about y’all help me design it?

    I’m thinking of a structure that asks people to rate their top two projects in each of the 5 categories:

    City Facilities

    City Streets & Related Infrastructure

    City Enterprise Operations

    Housing & Economic Development

    Community Enhancements

    I’d like to see an open comments section.

    I’d like to see a section that allows people to rank their level of satisfaction with the current CIP draft. That’ll help encourage people to read it.

  14. In the introductory section of the CIP – there is a draft CIP policy. Within the policy there is a framework for ranking projects by priority along with a framework for assigning a project financing grade. I’d love to get some public input on that section.

    Another note – with regards to David DeLong’s suggestion / question about why not go to referendum on all of the City facilities projects. Internally – the plan was to go the referendum route for the Library project. For the City Hall renovation and the Safety Center, the plan has been to use CIP bonds. CIP bonds are subject to a reverse referendum. There is a similar provision for Street Reconstruction Bonds. Both CIP and SRP Bonds require public hearings – these are scheduled for July 21st. (Note to D. DeLong – call me on these items if you get a minute.)

  15. Thanks, Mac… I’ll try to work that into the straw poll.

    I have a question for you re: bonds.

    Conversation about the CIP began here on LG back in Feb. 2007 when the ice arena was proposed by Ice Now:

    Ice now, ice later, or ice as-is?
    http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/archives/496/

    In that discussion, former City Admin Scott Neal (current City Mgr in Eden Prairie) wrote:

    Griff: I’m with you regarding the City’s decision to go forward on the pool project without a public vote. As much as the community may want an amenity like a pool or an ice arena, the law in Minnesota is pretty clear that citizens must authorize such spending through voter referendums. Using the taxing authority of the EDA to build a pool is almost unethical. Almost. Pretty close to the line. I hope the City Council will not make the same decision on new indoor ice…

    I think it was 1998 when the City offered citizens a chance to approve a public referendum for a new outdoor aquatic center. I was the City Administrator and Randy Distad was the Parks & Rec Director. The bond issue was defeated by less than 100 votes. It was very close, but citizens said no. We did not consider the “lease-revenue bond” scheme because the State Legislature did not give taxing and borrowing authority to City EDA’s and HRA’s to build public swimming pools, for goodnessake. Those taxing and borrowing powers are supposed to be reserved for doing truly necessary things in a community, such as blight removal, urban redevelopment or economic development. Not building outdoor swimming pools and indoor ice arenas.

    Mac, can you comment on Scott’s comments… where you agree and disagree?

    FYI, that Community Rec Center referendum Scott refers to happened in 1999. I moderated a community web forum on it. Here’s the entire transcript:

    http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/about/issue-forums/community-recreation-center-1999/

  16. Here’s the text of the part of the CIP that Mac refers to. (You can download the PDF of the whole plan in our Documents section.)



    Evaluation of CIP Projects

    The capital improvement program shall include those projects that will preserve and provide, in the most efficient manner, the infrastructure necessary to achieve the highest level of public services and quality of life possible within the available financial resources. Available financial resources include assessing the impact on residential and business property taxes and utility bills.

    Public input on proposed projects is a vital component on the evaluation process. Presentations will be made for purposes of soliciting public input on both the preliminary CIP and the final CIP.

    Only those projects that have gone through the CIP review process shall be included in the CIP document. No project, regardless of the funding source, shall be included in the CIP unless it meets an identified capital need of the City and is in conformance with this policy. Requests for projects from boards, commissions and individuals will be routed through the appropriate City department.

    Prioritizing Projects – Part I:

    Capital improvement projects shall be thoroughly evaluated and prioritized using the criteria set forth below.

    Priority A:
    · Critical health & safety issues;
    · Contractual or regulatory obligation (federal or state regulations or joint projects with the State or County);
    · High community support;
    · Direct link to Council goals or supports adopted plans;
    · Directly benefits the City’s economic base by increasing property values or expanding the tax base;
    · Prevents a substantial reduction in an existing standard of service;
    · Other?

    Priority B:
    · Health & safety issues (not critical);
    · Broad community support;
    · Indirect link to Council goals or adopted plans;
    · Cost-savings (by doing the project now, future cost-savings or prevents a larger-scale project in the future);
    · Significant to maintaining the City’s facilities or infrastructure;
    · Indirectly benefits the City’s economic base;
    · Helps prevent a reduction in an existing standard of service;
    · Other?

    Priority C:
    · Some community support;
    · No direct link to Council goals or adopted plans;
    · Of some importance to maintaining the City’s facilities or infrastructure;
    · No impact on City’s economic base or tax base.

    Priority D:
    · Little community support;
    · Insignificant to maintaining the City’s facilities or infrastructure.

    Prioritizing Projects – Part II:

    Capital improvement projects shall also be evaluated and prioritized according to their proposed financing using the criteria set forth below.

    Priority A:
    · Outside funding (federal / state grants or private contributions (50% or more);
    · No increase in property tax levy or utility rates;
    · Approved by voters (referendum);
    · Available funds on hand (and dedicated to this purpose);
    · Other?

    Priority B:
    · Some outside funding supplement (less than 50%);
    · Minimal impact on property tax levy or utility rates – less than 2%;
    · A large portion of the costs are assessable to benefiting properties;
    · Some funds on hand to finance a portion of the project;
    · Other?

    Priority C:
    · Minimal outside funding;
    · Less than 20% assessable to benefiting properties;
    · Modest impact on debt levy or utility rates – >2%, but less than 5%
    · Minimal amount of funds on hand to help finance project.

    Priority D:
    · No outside funding;
    · No assessable costs;
    · Significant impact on debt levy or utility rates – more than 5%.


    Okay, citizens, let’s have some input!

  17. Griff,

    In response to your request for my comments on Scott Neal’s remarks regarding issuing Lease Revenue Bonds for the pool. . . This project had been decided when I arrived. I wouldn’t regard the use of Lease Revenue Bonds for the project as unethical. In St. Louis Park, tax increment bonds were used to expand the ice arena and build a pool. No referendum was required for that bond issue and the project turned out quite well. The City of Savage took a different route and provided financing (I don’t recall what type – but it didn’t go to referendum) to the Lifetime Fitness facility (that offered discounts to citizens for use of the outdoor pool in return).

    My concern was the process. From what I’ve been told – a small group of citizens came to the Council and asked (vigorously?) for the project and Council agreed. My view of the process was that it was a decision made without consideration of the City’s other capital needs. But we didn’t have an adequate capital planning process at the time – so there wasn’t the opportunity to consider other needs / options.

    Would the decision be different today? Perhaps. Might it include a broader recreation facility that would include an ice arena with participation from other community groups – the “Y”, Ice Now, the colleges and others? Probably.

    Creating a comprehensive capital planning process and developing a long-range financial plan are key to making informed decisions in consideration of what the community wants / needs and can afford.

  18. That helps, Mac, thx. In case anyone wonders, I’m not looking to criticize individuals for that swimming pool decision, just understand it.

    As for ‘reverse referendum,’ can you point to a URL that provides more background? I see Scott Neal blogged about it way back in 2003:
    http://edenprairieweblogs.org/scottneal/post/34/

    but it would be good to know more, esp. as it relates to Northfield. Maybe some of the Charter-knowledgeable folks here can help, too.

  19. Here is an excerpt from my draft Street Reconstruction Plan that speaks to the reverse referendum. The provisions for CIP bonds are pretty much the same.

    Although a referendum is not required, a reverse referendum is allowable. If a petition bearing the signatures of at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the last general election requesting a vote on the issuance of bonds is received by the municipal clerk within 30 days after the public hearing, a referendum vote on the issuance of the bonds shall be called (if a vote is taken and the referendum passes, the taxes would be levied on market value rather than tax capacity).

  20. One more detail – the reverse referendum language is part of the statutes that authorize the two types of bonds. It isn’t anything to do with Charter language.

    Statutory references: Street Reconstruction Bonds – Chapter 475.58, Subd. 3b
    Capital Improvement Bonds – Chapter 475.521

  21. Pools, ice arenas, skate parks, etc. are all amenities. They all make life in a community better. However, they are not necessary for life to exist in a community.

    I’ll stand by my previous comments that using EDA or HRA bonding authority borders on a breach of ethics, in my opinion. Using this bonding authorty to build swimming pools and ice arenas is not what was intended by the State Legislature.

    I know that other cities do it and that some attorney somewhere must have blessed the whole deal, but that does not make it right.

  22. Geez, Scott, everyone loves to pick on attorneys these days. What’s a wife gonna do?

    I have to confess that I was serving on the EDA at the time the bond issue was approved. It was a directive of the council and came down from “on high” seemingly with proper authorization and legal sanctions in place. But I didn’t verify that for myself.

    Come to think of it, I might even have voted no… I’ll have to check my records and see. But if I did, it would just have been because I was obstreperous, not because I’d done my own due diligence on the issue. This is why we have to be able to rely on City staff to provide complete and accurate information.

  23. The scorecard might want to include: would a person move to Northfield because of this expenditure ?, would a business move to Northfield because of this expenditure ?, would a person or business stay in Northfield because of this expenditure ?. I know government is not always like business but the scorecard appears like a business going first with a new idea to see what accounting & finance thinks rather than sales & marketing (which does not happen).
    What would attract new residents, businesses and visitors more ? :
    1) Better digs for police and fire ?
    2) Bigger library ?
    3) Excellent indoor ice rink and indoor soccer facility ?
    4) Trolley connecting downtown, Targettown, Dundas, Hospital/Business Park in a loop ?
    or 5) outdoor dining (which seems important to mention in that it did not cost anything and could score high)

  24. Discussions at the Council Subcommittee and the Council retreat on the CIP included the initial approach of focusing on the City’s core services – public safety, public works, economic development / housing – with community enhancements following. (These are how the projects are grouped in the CIP.)

    We did an exercise at the retreat to do an overall ranking of projects by general category – If you had $10 million, where will you spend it? I’ll email the results of the exercise and other ranking exercises to Griff.

  25. Unless there’s an objection that’s convincing, I’ll withhold the Council survey results until after we complete our straw poll. I wouldn’t want to bias people.

  26. Apologies for the delay in the CIP straw poll. I got suggestions from both Mac and Scott Davis at Monday’s Council mtg and have yet to incorporate their feedback into the next/final version. I’ll get to it. Real Soon Now.

  27. This thread and the one on the Liquor Store are to some extent beginning to merge.

    The problem with the CIP is that there is no context provided, no analysis of the wider economic and financial realities assailing this country, this state, this city and we the people. Something like:

    “Having spent $3 trillion dollars on the wars; with a $9+ trillion national debt; 50 trillion dollar anticipated shortfall on Medicare and social security; bridges probably falling down throughout MN; gas at $4+ per gallon and likely to rise to $10+ in line with Europe; consumer debt at its highest level ever; Monty’s and Final Course Cafe closing and Sprazzo’s stillborn due to debt service, a soft economy, rocketing costs of supplies, and increasingly cautious consumers…we the staff offer the CIP to the Council and the people to ruminate over…”.

    From which rumination might come:
    1. A Just-Say-No campaign to credit card offers (especially to children in kindergarden!).
    2. No renovation of City Hall, No new Safety Center, No new Liquor store.
    3. A 4-year moratorium on all CIP projects that do not provide a tangible return on investment eg attracting lots of new businesses, visitors and spenders.
    4. A 4-year moritorium on consultants.
    5. Etc, etc

    We are not building resumes here. We are attempting to grow this city in this state in this country in this world at this time in an intelligent way. I, too, will support the candidates who have some notion of investment, spending and debt in the wider context and with the longer view.

  28. Norman, that’s a well-reasoned comment, that, together with Peter Waskiw’s comment #12 in the “Mayor’s Race: what are the issues?” discussion thread, has me rethinking my thinking on the CIP. Peter wrote:

    Let’s get practical. I would like to see a Mayor and his/her staff demonstrate the need to prioritize City spending and projects. The important CIP tool is currently being used to just list projects that people like or think are a good idea, and to create future wish lists.

    The whole point of connecting the City budget with priority spending becomes a farce under the current process. Why is the City talking about new facilities when local streets are not even paved or maintained? For example, 9th Street from Division Street to the War Memorial needs new pavement, curb and gutter, not to mention what needs to happened to other infrastructure under the road. 9th Street connects residents from the east side of Division to the War Memorial and to the walking/cycling path that connects to Downtown and Highway 3 South.

    This is just simple example to demonstrate that not more than 2 blocks from Downtown, an important residential street falls by the wayside, while there is talk about multi-million dollar civic projects. Where are the priorities? There needs to be real prioritization of City infrastructure projects and the financial decisions that go along with them.

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