Ice now, ice later, or ice as-is?

icenow-logo-header.pngThere’s a relatively new non-profit organization in Northfield called Ice Now “promoting the need for a new, multi-sheet, multi-purpose, skating facility.”

Many of the recent letters to the editor in the Northfield News have been about the proposed facility.

I didn’t like it that the City of Northfield made a decision last year to construct a $3 million dollar outdoor pool (a single use recreational facility for only 3 months of the year) with virtually no public debate or consideration of the overall community recreation needs.

I’ve not made up my mind on the skating facility, but it seems like a good time to have an online discussion about it. And then maybe in a week or so I’ll put up a straw poll on the issue.

8:30 am update: scade pointed out in a comment below that Letters to the Editor in the Northfield News are NOT accessible to non-subscribers. This is true if one navigates through their website. But I’ve provided links above that do allow for direct access. I hope they won’t mind since A) I’m trying to foster discussion on an important civic issue; and B) if they really want to block access, then my providing the URLs should not work anyway.

15 thoughts on “Ice now, ice later, or ice as-is?”

  1. I believe you do need a subscription to our beloved Northfield News to read the online edition… unlike the startrib, the NY Times, the Washington Post….But, yeah, with the recent addition of Grif as Editor I hope this policy can be looked at…

    With your competitors offering free online access and your affinity for the internet I hope you consider following the lead of the times, and the strib and giving us free access.

  2. Scade, the Northfield News currently blocks access to some of its content but not all. The Letters to the Editor section is one area that non-subscribers can access.

    Sam Gett is the new editor and publisher of the Northfield News. He can be reached at sgett@northfieldnews.com. Let’s hope as the new media guy for the corporation, he changes this policy. If he changed it today, then more people would read his Wed. column on the ice arena.

  3. From the computers i access the nfld news i am unable to get to the letters to the editor. The letter dates appear but not the content. Also, a snipit of content appears for many items (news) but access to the stories is denied without a loggin code… Maybe they could impose a Northfield News Select option like the times so we could access certain portions of the paper.

    Thanks for the email to the new editor but really i would perfer to continue thinking that Griff was the new guy in charge.

  4. Ahhh, thanks for the info! I’ve amended my blog post. If you follow my links to the letters, you should be able to view them. But if you just go to the top level of their site and try to navigate your way to them, you can’t do it without logging in.

  5. 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 HRA 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.

  6. That’s good to know, Scott. I don’t remember anyone raising this issue at the time. Jeesh.

    Didn’t citizens reject a referendum for a pool back in the 90s?

    [FYI, Scott’s comment said “HRA” but it was the EDA, so I’ve edited it with his permission.]

  7. I can’t recall exactly, but 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.

  8. I hope you do get both Council and EDA to comment, Griff. In a small town, and without indepth/investigative news reporting, often the actions of these two bodies are not “transparent” enough. And way too often, one city board or commision will make demeaning remarks about another boards decision, as if one is doing their job and another is not taking their job seriously. (there is a recent example of this which I’ll leave unspecified here).
    There was , however, so much discussion of the new swimming pool at the time, albeit mostly the two neighborhood groups, that anyone could have started a larger, more widespread, community conversation.
    One wonders why the newspaper does not see this as a way to both serve the community and raise readership.

  9. Griff,

    When we talked you hinted that Northfield had multiple public asset problems to deal with, including (1) new ice, (2) upgrade safety center (PD/FD), (3) upgrade City Hall, (4) library.

    Can you tell me who has the definitive list and who can give me costs of each project/option as they sit at this point?

    I’d like to put together a decision table to show Dundas Planning Commmission and Dundas City Hall how one city deals with this sort of conflicting needs.

  10. Hello Group,

    I pulled a letter from my files I wrote to the city council in late 2005 before we voted on the pool issue. Substitute “hockey rink” or “liquor store” or any other capital item for pool – the issue is still unresolved. We are starting to work on a Capital Improvements Plan that balances funding needs with funding sources but I think we are 6 months away from getting a good working document.

    It is a long letter for this venue, but, what can I say, I’m a long winded politician.

    December 14, 2005

    Fellow Councilors and Mayor,

    I am writing to you today to inform you that I believe I have made a mistake in judgment with regard to the city pool replacement project. Like many concerned citizens involved in the project, I have narrowly focused on the details required to expeditiously replace a broken pool with a new pool ready for the 2007 summer season. Should the pool be this big, or that big? Where exactly should it be located in Memorial Field? How will it affect the neighbors? Is a kiddy pool important? Is a 50 meter length important?

    Unfortunately, until recently I have not thought more strategically about how this large taxpayer investment may affect our ability to meet other equally important future city infrastructure needs, recreation or otherwise, that lie in our future.

    I now believe committing a large amount of money to fulfill one kind of recreation need, namely summertime outdoor swimming, may significantly diminish the city’s ability to provide the broad spectrum of community infrastructure needs we will most assuredly need to provide over the next two decades.

    The budget for the current pool is set at about 3 million dollars. To fund this pool without a referendum, the city intends to request the Economic Development Authority to finance and build the pool through purchasing a 20 year bond. The city will then lease the pool from the EDA at a cost of about $250,000 per year. Along with the lease payment, my estimate is that the city will need to provide an additional $50,000 per year to subsidize its operation (this is only an estimate since there is currently no business plan itemizing our expected revenues and expenses). Therefore, the pool will cost the citizens of Northfield about $300,000 per year for the next 20 years.

    If no other sources of revenue are found or no other expenses in the city are reduced, I calculate bringing the pool back as planned will result in a tax increase of about 6 percent in 2007. In the short term, I suspect this amount of money to a community like ours, one that has a strong tax base coupled with a strong desire to provide for its children, will not be an unbearable burden.

    The problem comes when we want to do the next great, important, necessary city infrastructure project.

    If we purchase the 3 million dollar pool now, financed by a 20 year mortgage, what future community investment opportunities are we willing to forego or postpone over that time period because we have already allocated a substantial percentage of our finite bonding capacity? Will it be a new indoor ice complex when our current facility meets a fate similar to our late pool? Will it be the 5 million dollar library expansion planned in 2008? Will it be the 4 million dollar new Safety Center planned in 2010? Will it be a teen community center when we realize that the current Key facility is woefully insufficient to provide community support to all of our teenagers? Will it become clear to us when we want to fund a community art and theater building for those in our community who may not equate recreation only with exercise? Will we understand the real cost of the new pool when our annual $300,000 a year pool payment combined with a downturn in the economy requires us to forego our planned future neighborhood park improvements or expansions.

    The fact is, because our city wide five year capital improvements plan does not reconcile our “wants” with our “ability to pay”, it is unknown to me what projects we will not fund in our plan by committing to a $300,000 per year pool payment over the next 20 years. More specifically, in the area of recreation, we have not relied on our recreation provider (Community Ed. And Rec.) to assist us in the prudent allocation of scare resources amongst many competing recreational needs. Is this pool the best, most efficient way to meet our recreation goals? Knowing we have many different constituents to serve, have we applied the “appropriate balance” rule to this project like we do so often when allocating scarce resources in other areas of city business?

    The pool is broken and we want a new one – now. For some in our community that is enough. For me, I now realize that simple statement it is not enough. I need to know how our new pool fits into our overall long term recreation and capital plans, including impact on taxes.

    Without a full time administrator, without a director of finance, and without a recreation department, it seems to me we are moving forward on our largest investment since the NCRC building with limited professional support. The Park Board and staff are focused almost entirely on the pool’s physical shape and location, not on its ongoing operation or its financial impact on our future ability to provide other needed new capital investments in the city. These “bigger picture” issues are our responsibility.

    I believe I made a mistake by not thinking and speaking clearly on this in June. In good conscience, I can’t add to my mistake by not thinking and speaking clearly on this in December.

    Until I see a long term recreation plan and a long term financial plan; until I can tell the citizens what we might be giving up by going forward; I cannot support a new pool project.

    To help me put this project in city wide perspective, I am requesting that this issue, namely, the impact of a new pool on our long term recreation plan and our capital improvements plan, be an agenda item as soon as our schedule permits.

    Perhaps after we place the pool project in the context of an overall plan, we will determine that we do, indeed, have the capacity to move forward with the pool as planned without major impact on other equally or more important projects. If so, I will wholeheartedly support the pool and will apologize to all of you for any delays in the pool project due to my mistaken concern over not having a plan.

    As always, thanks for listening,

    Jim

  11. Response to bruce Morlan’s comment #10………… You should talk to the city administrator, Al Roder, on this one. There is a list of city facilities that need updating, rehabbing, or complete rebuilding, BUT the city is in the process of doing a “Space Needs Assessment” with a consulting firm by the name of Hays/Dobbs; this is not yet completed. When that assessment is done, the council will have to embark on the stormy seas of prioritizing those needs/facilities, and then determining budgets. Or maybe determining budgets will be a parallel track, and budgets will determine whether some projects are needs or wants.
    I assume there will be a public input process at that point, and more lobbying than the council wants to deal with.
    Somehow, they (administration and council) will have to figure out how the public input will be a broad spectrum of opinion, and not just specific interest groups.
    And then, there will have to be a referendum, because that is the proper way to do it, at least for the recreational parts. The city services parts, police/fire, etc. can legitimately be bonded without referendum, I think.
    Is that correct, Mr. Roder?

  12. Kiffi, I don’t think Al’s regularly checking the blog conversation here but from Scott Neal’s comments above, that sounds correct.

    Councilor Jim, thanks for re-posting your letter of opposition. Did the issue come up among Council members or by the City attorney or anyone else that the lease-revenue bond approach to fund the pool was specifically counter to the Legislature’s guidelines on the city’s taxing and borrowing authority?

  13. Jim,
    Thanks for your thoughtful letter — and your rather frightening but not surprising assessment of the lack of process and planning for capital improvements. I, too was upset that the pool project was done without any coordination with other needs.
    This isn’t spending to recover from to a tornado, it’s planning for projects that have been under discussion for years. The council at this point should just be updating a plan already in place, not starting from scratch. Under the circumstances, the liquor store should be delayed until the list is done (which would give time for a referendum on whether the city should sell liquor).
    There are great examples of mixed use facilities (city hall/library/art center/etc.) throughout the area, so maybe we should look around and see how other cities have solved these problems and what the costs have been. Most cities have their plans and projects on their websites, so we can do virtual tours without leaving town.
    For example, Lakeville has plans on its website for a new liquor store — and a price tag of $4 million. And if we can make money from a liquor store, why not add a bar and make more money?
    A few million here, a few million there, all this could really add up. Add in the pressure from very vocal groups to get their way and it’s clear the council needs to get a plan.

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