Tag Archives: budget

Gridlock, extremes, partisanship at the Capitol? Unintended consequences of what Northfield’s liberal voters asked for

Star Tribune reporter Richard Meryhew at the Goodbye Blue Monday Coffeehouse in NorthfieldStarTribune reporter Richard Meryhew paid a visit to Northfield and a few other towns in District 25B last week, asking citizens their reaction to the state budget battle at the Capitol.  His story appeared in yesterday’s paper: Voters say: Enough Already.  In politically diverse House District 25B, folks wonder how compromise became a four-letter word at the Capitol.

Among the Northfielders he interviewed: Chuck DeMann, Peggy Prowe, Sue Lloyd, Al Linder, Jim Johnson, and me.

Sue Lloyd was quoted: "How we’ve come to such extremes I don’t know… Are there middle [ground] people? I don’t know anymore."

Sue, we had a "middle ground" legislator not too long ago:  Ray Cox, a moderate Republican by most measures.  Back in 2007, Ray got a measly 26% score from the Taxpayers League, was at times branded at RINO by some in the GOP, and received the endorsement from the Star Tribune.  Ray wrote in a Jan. 2008 blog post after he lost the special Senate election to Kevin Dahle:

Ray CoxIn the recent Senate Special election I was honored to receive the endorsement of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. That meant a lot to me. The editors and writers there conducted a thorough review of my voting record. They conducted a comprehensive interview about current issues. While they were careful to keep partisan politics out of their discussion, the editors are well aware of the environment that the legislature must conduct its work. They noted my ability to work in a bipartisan manner on state issues in an attempt to resolve some of the more pressing concerns.

Northfield’s liberal voters rejected this moderate Republican and instead voted for Dahle in large numbers.  Likewise, Cox was not enough of a social conservative for a large number of voters in the western part of the district and so they didn’t vote in large enough numbers to offset the liberal vote in Northfield.

Northfield’s liberals won the battle of 2008 but they lost the war in 2010 when the Republicans fielded much more conservative candidates in Al DeKruif and Kelby Woodard who were able to get out the D-25 conservative vote in big numbers.

So for 25B voters to now complain about extremes, partisanship, and gridlock seems a little disingenuous.  Al and Kelby and the rest of the freshman Republicans know who and what got them there.  Why compromise with Gov. Dayton until you have to?

Tom Neuville, Al Quie, Ray CoxWayne Cox, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice, had a commentary in last week’s Strib titled The state’s GOP has lost its way – and many party veterans know it. He criticized the GOP for being "Not Your Mother’s Republican Party" because the voices of moderate Republicans like Arne Carlson, Duane Benson, Dave Jennings, Al Quie, and Dave Durenberger were no longer being heard by the GOP. 

Were he writing about Rice County, he’d likely name Ray Cox and Tom Neuville.

Do the Math

Actually, it’s just simple arithmetic. Subtracting…or adding…a few numbers.

This morning, I read a social media update from Smithjonessolicitors.co.uk that the City of Northfield had cut the General Fund Budget by $1.5 million. Wow, last I heard, our General Fund Budget was $10.5 million. $1.5 million would be an almost 15% cut. Such a reduction in expenditures would be impressive.

So I decided I’d conduct a little research of the available facts…and do a little simple arithmetic. Continue reading Do the Math

Let’s Wiki a City Budget

Recently a few of our public officials acknowledged what many astute observers had been discussing for months.  The City of Northfield needs to address a $2 million budget deficit.

After experiencing property tax increases of over 300 percent since 2000, commercial property owners have been encouraging City leaders to balance the budget without another property tax increase or the creation of additional fees.  Most business leaders, indeed many private citizens, have had to balance their own budgets in the face of declining income, and they understand that cutting costs often means reducing services.

In at least three discussions with local business leaders, Mayor Rossing has suggested that if the City needs to cut costs, they could look at cutting Police, Fire, and Snowplowing.  The question that came to my mind, “Are these the services citizens would most want to cut?”.

Based on conversations I’ve had with a variety of people, I believe the answer is, “No.”

Several groups in town have been asking for greater citizen participation in City budget balancing since at least last November, when many of their members were already predicting the coming crisis.  However, some of our City leaders have resisted citizen involvement.

Very recently, the Council discussed the possible creation of some kind of citizen advisory group to analyze City spending and to recommend changes.  But now it’s July and the fiscal year is half over.

Northfield has valued and encouraged citizen participation in the big issues of the day since John North set up his Debating Society shortly after founding the town.  One hundred and fifty or so years later, we’ve probably got more Web 2.0 tools per capita in this town than any other community in Minnesota.

In the award-winning and best-selling 2006 book “Wikinomics”, authors Tapscott and Williams suggested that we open source government.  As the many of the most progressive and successful private sector organizations have realized, we’ll make better decisions if we tap the insights of a broader segment of the population.

So let’s “wiki” a City budget.

A few of us have met informally over lunch in recent weeks to share gathered City budget information.  One product of our group’s efforts is posted within this piece.  We consider it to be merely a starting point for further discussion.

It represents the City of Northfield’s General Fund Budget for 2010.  I would note one thing in particular, however.  This financial summary includes Economic Development and Housing Development, both of which are funded by separate levies on the taxpayers.  Our group thought it was a more transparent view of the City government’s spending to include all of it on one page.

I encourage you to review the attachment and consider how your $11 million are spent.  If you were trying to cut $2 million, would it be library hours, park maintenance, or the  Spanish interpreter?  Would you instead look at cutting back on police, fire, and snow-plowing?  Or would you look at other areas of the budget?

Griff has discussed several techie tools that might be appropriate for a  citizens’ “vote” on funding municipal services.  Mayor Rossing has publicly pondered a survey of citizen priorities.  Frankly, I’m about ready to set up 7 labeled cans in the coffeehouses and taverns around town and hand out 9 dollars worth of wooden quarters to interested citizens.

But citizen input gathering is the next step.  Right now, I would encourage you to review and contemplate where your money is being spent.  Think about your priorities moving forward, in a new economic reality, and be ready to share them with all of the people of Northfield.

Where’s the public process on City’s budget cuts?

NDDC Board Chair Keith Covey’s letter to the Mayor and City Council last week (Nfld News here; NDDC blog here) notes that

Keith Covey …given the size of our financial challenge and the pursuit of cost reduction-driven solutions, we all realize that cuts will not be painless. To that end, the values and priorities of the citizens of Northfield should be the guiding factors in determining recommendations for which services should be maintained and which services could be eliminated.

The NDDC requests that a formal, open, two-way process be conducted to provide citizens the opportunity to share their values and priorities for funding decisions that will impact their municipal services.

The reaction by two councilors to the layoff of Marj Evans-de-Carpio (Nfld News story, Interpreter layoff criticized) indicates there’s some support for Covey’s position:

At a council meeting in May, both Zweifel and Buckheit voted for to approve “general direction” of the city’s budget reduction plan, but said they felt discouraged from pulling single items out of the overall plan for discussion.

Both councilors also voiced frustration about how the city has approached planning for the cuts. “I realize the need to make short-term cuts, but we’ve never had the bigger picture conversation about our values and priorities in the community,” said Buckheit.

The Northfield City Council recently approved its Strategic Direction and Goals for 2010 and the first three goals under Direction #1 all have to do with citizen communications. ‘Twould be cool if they could be put into play for the budget cuts.

Podcast: the Triumvirate on Mayor Rossing’s crackdown on Council decorum; City Hall budget cuts

The LG TriumvirateWe split our time between A) making suggestions for cutting the budget at City Hall and B) discussing Mayor Mary Rossing’s 5-minute commentary at the start of last week’s Council meeting.

Click play to listen. 30 minutes:

Mary Rossing remarks to CouncilKYMN has the indexed video of the 5/18/10 Council meeting so you can go right to the video of the Mayor’s Opening Remarks.  (KYMN News Director Scott Peterson mentioned her remarks in his news update on 5/19.)

There are a couple minutes of dead air at the beginning, plus the approval of minutes etc. so her opening remarks don’t begin till the 3:45 minute mark. If you’re in a hurry, here’s an audio excerpt. (Click play to listen. 5 minutes.)

Continue reading Podcast: the Triumvirate on Mayor Rossing’s crackdown on Council decorum; City Hall budget cuts

Audio: Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing on financing the Capital Improvement plan, budget shortfall

Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing at NDDC forum Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing
Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing presented at an NDDC forum this morning, discussing, as noted in Ross’ NDDC blog post, “the City of Northfield’s plans for financing the Capital Improvement Plan and [the] work to address the budget shortfall in the 2010 budget and a similar challenge for the 2011 budget.”

Click play to listen. 1 hour, 13 minutes. Or download the MP3.

Straw poll: Would you volunteer to staff the City’s yard waste/compost facility to save money?

City of Northfield compost facilityThe City of Northfield’s compost facility is not due to open for two more weeks, April 13, despite the fact that spring has arrived 2-3 weeks early. Normally, I Ross Tracy would be bitching whining about the City’s lack of flexibility or poor “customer” responsiveness.

But this year’s budget woes compel me to approach it differently. I don’t know how much the City spends each season to have a part-time people staff it but let’s assume it’s approximately $15, 000 (40 hrs/week * 30 weeks * $12/hr).

compost-faq-sshotThe City could save money by cutting back hours and telling people to pay Waste Management or use the Rice County Recycling Center (see the 2010 compost site PDF).

Or it could ask its citizens to volunteer to help keep services at their present level. (Imagine this scenario happening with many other services that the City provides.)

Here’s a straw poll that’ll give city fathers and mothers an indication of citizens’ appetite for cutting vs. volunteering in order to save money:

Continue reading Straw poll: Would you volunteer to staff the City’s yard waste/compost facility to save money?

Community event in-kind grant program: What needs fixing? How to control costs?

2009 Outlaw Run 2009 Outlaw Run
The City of Northfield is hosting a meeting with community event organizers tomorrow night, Wed. March 24, 7 pm. It’s not clear who from City Hall will be there and who’s invited (it’s open to the public) because other than the date and time, there’s no meeting information available that I could find. I’m told that packets have been sent out to various stakeholders. I don’t know why the general public can’t have access to them.

The issue was on the Council Work Session agenda for March 9 and the proposed changes are detailed in the packet PDF, pages 9-32. I’ve excerpted some of the text here for convenience (see below).

Update 3/25/10: photos from last night’s meeting:

 community event organizers meeting Dean Kjerland at  community event organizers meeting  community event organizers meeting

Continue reading Community event in-kind grant program: What needs fixing? How to control costs?