Tag Archives: City of Edina

Let’s consider a utility franchise fee to fund new sidewalk, trail and non-motorized transportation projects

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the Edina City Council:

…took the first step toward implementing utility franchise fees to create a new revenue stream. Funds would finance new sidewalk, trail and non-motorized transportation projects around the community. Currently, such projects are funded through the City’s annual Capital Improvement Plan or special assessments. The utility franchise fees are estimated to generate more than $1 million in new revenue per year.

Edina City Manager Scott Neal has the full rationale in his Aug. 17 blog post, What’s a franchise fee?

The new utility franchise fee is like a sales tax in that it will be a small charge listed on the monthly bill that customers receive from each utility, but its unlike a sales tax in that it is a flat amount each month that is tied to the type of customer you are, not how much electricity or natural gas you consume. For a typical residential customer of Xcel Energy, the new monthly franchise fee is $1.45 per month.  It’s exactly the same for the typical residential customer of CenterPoint Energy…

This goal will require resources to complete.  After looking at a number of different ways to fund this goal, the Council and I settled on the utility franchise fee as our best option.  Why?  It has a wide base.  Everyone in the community (including non-property tax paying properties) uses electricity and natural gas, so everyone will pay the franchise fee.  Because the base of people paying this fee is wide, the rate of the fee itself can be low.  That’s how a $2.90/month/residence franchise fee can generate over $1 million a year in revenues.

utility franchise feeWe really need a way to pay for new sidewalks that’s not so onerous for the residential property owners along streets where none exist, for example, Woodley.    And yes, bicycle-related infrastructure, too.

Having a tax that everyone would pay, including schools, colleges, churches, and non-profits, is especially appealing. 

Downsides?

Some very good local government online engagement advice from urban planner Scott Doyon

I posted this to my business blog a few days ago but since I mentioned Northfield it in, I thought I’d post it here on LoGro as well.

Scott Doyon is Director of Client Marketing Services for PlaceMakers, an urban planning firm. He published a post to his Better Cities blog last week titled Public process: Don’t botch your online engagement (also on their Placeshakers blog here):

Scott DoyonNew tools have made it easier than ever to set up a project website, fast and cheap, for just about any endeavor. So easy, in fact, that people often assume the task of populating it with content is equally so.

It’s not. Instead, what you end up with is city staffers with limited time and limited resources, and who already engage with the public regularly in person, suddenly presented with the task of doing so electronically as well. Not surprisingly under such circumstances, whenever they find themselves in possession of any piece of information even remotely related to the project, their response seems obvious: Put it on the web.

Raw information. Posted. Done.

That’s a problem.

The City of Northfield has a history such failed project web sites, some done by the city staff, some by consulting firms. Some recent examples:

Doyon writes:

Think of the parallel: You’re in a traditional public meeting and someone asks a question about why the city is doing something. Do you provide a concise rationale, spelling out its benefits and role in larger community goals, or do you hand them a binder with 300 pages of reports and memos and tell them to have at it?

What should local governments do instead with their project sites?

Provide however much content it takes to express, up front and at each step along the way, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how people can participate. No more. No less.

Grandview District blog siteExactly.  Unfortunately, Doyon doesn’t provide examples so here’s one I’ve worked on for the past 9 months: the GrandView District project blogsite for the City of Edina, MN. 

In that time, the project blog’s been updated 36 times with many dozens of photos and has nearly 300 comments attached. It includes all the files, Powerpoint presentations, archives of the webinar, and links to meeting videos.

Doyon also points out that local governments are unwitting victims of the “Blank Slate” dilemma:

Another common fumble is confusing the difference between collecting ideas and building consensus around community goals. A variety of new tools have made it easier than ever for cities to engage citizens in a discussion of ideas. “What would you like to see?,” they ask. “Provide your ideas and rate the ideas of others.”

That is, when presented with a blank slate, people naturally assume that anything is possible. But as you know, it’s not. Avoiding problems is all in how you ask the questions. For example, you’ll often find questions like this: “How can we improve Founder’s Park?” Sounds empowering, right? Unfortunately, it also sets a foundation for failed effort.

Instead, the question should be posed this way: “The city has budgeted $4 million towards renovations for Founder’s Park. Keeping in mind that further land acquisition isn’t an option at this site, what improvements, initiatives or recreational options would you like to see prioritized?”

That’s the exact approach the City of Edina took with another engagement project, the 2012 budget.  Working with the Citizens League, the areas of the budget that citizen input was sought were very narrowly defined. Ultimately, the process proved to be very effective and will be repeated again this year.

For background, see all my Edina-related blog posts about my work with the Edina Citizen Engagement project.