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Sunday, May 28, 2006

It could be a long, hot (and expensive) summer in New Brighton

Now that nice weather is here it's easy to get involved in summer activities and ignore local government, but it would be wise for New Brighton residents to keep an eye on their city council this summer. Back in December, when an angry overflow crowd showed up at the Truth in Taxation meeting, the city council was made aware of the anger of the residents in regard to the proposed 13.5% property tax increase. Pressure from the citizens and the efforts of some on the council managed to reduce the rate to 9.5%. This was still out of line (at about three times the rate of inflation), but was about as good as could be realistically hoped for given the make-up of the city government at the time.

Several of the citizens who addressed the council in December were seniors on fixed incomes and young couples trying to support a family who told of real hardships to make ends meet when their taxes were increased by near double-digits. Now it seems that some council members and other city government officials have forgotten the outrage of the governed. At a city budget work session on May 16 there was an attitude expressed by Mayor Larson and some others in New Brighton government that those of us who showed up in December were just a noisy mob that can now be ignored.

Out-going (thank God!) City Manager Matt Fulton even went as far as to make a comment to the effect that residents who complained about or couldn't afford the taxes imposed by New Brighton should consider living somewhere else. Yes, he really did say that. This profundity was captured for the ages on an audio recording of the work session and is available from City Hall (but will cost you $10 for a copy. Perhaps the city can be convinced to make it available for download on their web site?).

The arrogance of this prevailing attitude at City Hall is eclipsed only by the out-of-control spending and reckless redevelopment. It appears that some New Brighton city administration types need a not-so-gentle reminder from us that just because money is budgeted they are not obligated to spend it. Council members Sharon Doffing and Gina Bauman are valiantly attempting to keep spending in line and bring some sanity to the redevelopment, but they are fighting an uphill battle with others in city government who apparently think the political heat is off and can spend without restraint. City Manager Fulton, who will be leaving after the first week of July, appears to be particularly out of control.

How wise is it for the city to allow a lame duck (and there is none lamer) like Fulton to influence hiring and policy decisions that will impact all of us for years when he won't be accountable for them, especially given his abysmally poor track record in the areas of property rights, taxation, and spending? I hope the mayor and the council have the common sense and political backbone to enact some sort of administrative leave or to hasten his departure to limit how much long term damage he can do on his way out.

In addition to budget and spending issues, New Brighton government is addressing problems with the massive redevelopment effort that has been in progress since before anyone associated with the city would care to admit. It appears that things aren't going so well with the Northwest Quadrant and Brighton Village projects.

In the NWQ, most buildings (that once housed tax paying people and businesses) have been demolished and bulldozers are preparing the land for construction, but there are still a couple of parcels that the city does not control. This has induced some not-so-whispered considerations of further (ab)use of Eminent Domain by Fulton et al to deal with the "problem".

Things are also not peachy-keen on the Brighton Village front. The large pile of rubble that was created to alleviate what Mayor Larson deemed an "eye sore" still graces the landscape while, just down I-694 at the Super Target site, significant construction progress has been made even though the old Target was demolished long after Brighton Village. The original council-approved redevelopment plan for the site has long since expired and it appears that the whole project is moving back toward the proverbial square one. Based on the past actions of the city government, some expansion of TIF is almost certain to be proposed to the council this summer to jump-start the process without regard to the further kick in the, uh, teeth it would administer to the taxpayers.

In the last election the people of New Brighton ousted a major purveyor of big government arrogance and financial irresponsibility (i.e. incumbent Council Member Kim Moore-Sykes) in favor of Gina Bauman and re-elected Council Member Sharon Doffing, both by wide margins. Mayor Larson was re-elected, but with an embarrassingly poor vote total considering that he ran unopposed. It would be in all of our financial and civic interests to show up at council meetings and work sessions in the upcoming weeks to augment the summer heat with a little political heat by supporting council members Bauman and Doffing (the only two that consistently stand up for the taxpayers and property owners of the city) and let the others know that their spending spree and irresponsible redevelopment decisions will not go unnoticed in the next election.

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