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Saturday, July 15, 2006

New Brighton Budgetball - First Inning Complete: Taxpayers down $4600

After the first inning of New Brighton Budgetball the taxpayers are down $4600.

In spite of home runs by council members Gina Bauman and Sharon Doffing and some aggressive play on the base paths by the public in attendance, the big spenders on the council took an early lead in their quest to raise taxes and spending. Unfortunately three bad-call foul balls were enough to overcome the heroics of Bauman and Doffing.

Bauman's towering shot pointed out that the proposed survey was worthless in that it lacked any semblance of substance and that some of the questions were of a "how much more are you willing to spend" theme and were very misleading in that they implied that tax increases impact all citizens by the same amount without taking property values into account. Her effort drew applause and cheers from those in attendance that was immediately quashed by a red-faced Mayor Larson after a short but sharp rhubarb with some members of the audience.

Doffing followed up by crushing one into the cheap seats that brought to light that, in spite of the drubbing the council took from the public in the Truth in Taxation hearing last December, no real cost cutting has yet been implemented by the council even though the debate for the next budget is underway. This was well received by the public but drew dour expressions from the left side of the council table.

The big spenders pulled out their victory aided by some bad calls and very strained and contorted logic to justify their support of the survey.

Lefty Council Member Ann Hoffman cranked an obvious foul ball when she adamantly stated that she needed the information the substance-free survey questions could provide and that she believed the survey could actually end up saving the city money(!). Her comments bolstered the view of many in attendance that the league spending abuse and illogical conclusion policies need to be tightened up.

Council Member Mary Burg and Mayor Steve Larson, in spite of some really feeble swings from the left side, managed to make contact with some wishy-washy "don't pre-judge the results of the survey" arguments as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding about basic statistical concepts.

In general the big spenders had real problems fielding the concept that statistically accurate survey results do not translate to good information if the survey questions (as well as the allowed answers), either by design or incompetence, do not pertain to the issues that are being debated. They refused to seriously debate the content of the questions by hiding behind a "more information is always good" argument. As is typical with liberals, they endorsed the "I feel" approach over intelligent thought and discussion that includes a cost-benefit analysis.

The big spenders apparently believe that the information they may get from the survey is worth the $11.50/call it is costing the taxpayers ($4600 for 400 phone surveys). When it was brought up that if the council insisted on the survey (inane as it may be) it could be done for much less cost by including it in the utility bills the city mails out anyway. This possibility was nixed by Acting City Manager Jeanna Troha by her assertion that the results would not be available in time for the budget discussions that will take place this summer and fall, even though the final vote on the budget is not until December. She didn't elaborate on why the utility payment checks that would come in the same envelopes would manage to get processed in much less time than the five months leading to the budget vote.

In the end, the 3-2 vote by the council put the taxpayers down $4600. While in the large scheme of things this is not all that much, the real danger is that the big spenders may use the survey results for political cover to justify another tax and spending spree this fall. They seem to feel that the public is as gullible as some members of the council are clueless.

We as citizens of New Brighton need to continue to keep the heat on throughout the budget process. In the metaphorical world of Budgetball the contest is self-umpired by the council, but in the real world of city elections the call is made by the public who know the difference between home runs and foul balls and will call them as such.

5 Comments:

Blogger G-man said...

They want to question 400 unsuspecting, unprepared citizens who likely were in the middle of something more interesting than city budget issues? How smart is that?

Why not question citizens who took the time to learn about some of the issues?

Oh ya, they did. 2,000 such citizens were surveyed last November on Election Day. They were asked to vote among city council candidates who supported fiscal responsibility and a candidate who, well, didn't.

Gina Bauman and Sharon Doffing each stood for protecting private property – both land and income – from land grabbers and money spenders at city hall. They each earned nearly 40% of the vote. The third candidate who worked to liberate land and income from their rightful owners lost with just over 20% of the vote.

Who's kidding who. The Mayor and City Council members in New Brighon know that New Brighton residents want less spending and no more tax hikes. This phone poll has little to do with fact finding and everything to do with justifying more spending.

I'll bet the phone poll does not contain the question “should New Brighton spend $4,600 to ask 400 people questions about spending money?”

7/16/2006 10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should also address the fact that Mounds View Public Schools and Ramsey County also affect the tax levy, not just New Brighton.

Are you going to those meetings to see if you can address their over spending?
Are you going to point out their issues?

I just think that there are bigger problems than just the City of New Brighton, and you need to include that information, if you’re going to keep an accurate scoring of the game.

7/17/2006 7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope this message get printed in the Press and the Bulletin(s)

7/17/2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

You are absolutely right. School levies and Ramsey County tax and spend practices also play major roles in the cost of living in New Brighton.

Our focus on New Brighton has more to do with time, current events, and starting with that which we can make a difference.

We strive to be complete, thorough, and accurate on Boots On. However, jobs, family, toddlers, and home improvement have a way of limiting the research and post updates that we would like to perform. Still, it is our goal to offer more information on the bigger picture.

There are constant questions regarding the accountability of spending in school districts and counties across Minnesota. While the State Legislature had to tighten its belt a few years ago, counties in particular have been tempted to continue spending as usual then blame the state for higher property taxes.

Further, there is the general question of the fairness for basing taxes on current market value of one's property. Ramsey County can and does raise taxes by simply raising estimated property value. If you paid $100,000 for your home, but your current market value is $200,000, then your taxes are based on this market value. To put this another way, you are taxed on the money you COULD make from selling your home – BUT HAVEN'T.

If income taxes were done the same way, you would be taxed on the income you COULD make if you fully applied yourself according to the education and skills that the government has assessed that you possess. If sales tax was done the same way, businesses would be taxed on the goods sold PLUS their remaining inventory.

Moreover, the county can raise taxes while claiming that they didn't. It would be more honest for the county raise the tax rate and not individual estimated market values of each home. I believe that property tax reform should become a hot issue in the coming elections and yes, I hope to learn more and post more on this subject.

So why focus on New Brighton? First, the budget debate is happening now. Second, as the most local from of government, we can have the most impact starting here.

If you have attended school board and county board meetings and have insight to offer on the complete picture, please feel free to do so in these comment pages.

7/18/2006 1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the recent council meeting as well as read the Bulletin’s front-page article and am writing in response to Ms. Doffing’s suggestion to provide opinions about city taxes as well as the decision making process:

I have two statements:

“As a government official, it is your duty to make informed decisions based on balanced input” and “you have to wisely spend money to make money – lack of investment eventually leads to decline”

Informed Decisions:

As a marketing executive for a non-profit organization, a properly executed opinion survey is extremely valuable and standard investment for strategic planning, new service development and any other important decision. From what I have heard, the proposed survey is being executed by an experience vendor and for a fair price. To save a simple $4,000 in the scope of a 22,000 member community with a multi-million dollar budget and go with Ms. Bauman and Ms. Doffing’s personal assumption demonstrates their inexperience. My guess for their “nay” vote? It was just another of their “stand up and look at us trying to save money…we’re the good guys” routines.

When you hold a meeting on taxation, you will logically get a targeted attendance population of people who hold the topic high on their radar…most likely those wanting lower taxes unless there is a specific decision on the agenda – say to charge more taxes for a unique new service proposal or other unique issue. In that situation, you may get a more diverse crowd. Therefore, using the single meeting alone as your basis for budgeting is unscientific and poor research methodology. And, to use undocumented one-on-one conversation from residents with a single council member is unethical.

Ms. Bauman, the fact that you personally do not like surveys and “never take them” is an unprofessional excuse for your decision-making process. If you do not understand the strategy and scientific execution and use of information behind surveying and have not experienced the process, how can you possibly make the decision to say no based upon cost alone? It was your responsibility to talk with the vendor and staff, get involved to learn more and talk with other city councils that have used them for similar purposes. If you did this, you did not display any educated dialogue during the meeting. In fact, it’s difficult to listen to your opinions because you obviously have little experience in researching, contemplating and making informed governmental decisions. Ms. Bauman, it is your duty make informed, educated decisions. Start studying, please. As it was, it was your duty to have abstained from voting on the issue.

Ms. Doffing, I appreciate the fact that you had better ways of asking the specific questions. You are making progress…but such work should be done in a work session or perhaps directly with the vendor and staff PRIOR to the council meeting. Again, I witness what I perceive as grandstanding efforts for political gain. All that time at a council meeting to save $4,000?! Using council meetings for your personal political clout-building is a waste of taxpayers time and money. Please work harder to BUILD relationships – even if they don’t hold your personal views. Please campaign to overthrow the current council members on the streets and NOT in council meetings.

Taxes

I find Ms. Doffing’s statement that “no one wants higher taxes” arrogant and offensive. Again and again, she assumes there is no diversity in this world and that everyone holds her one-track conservative financial views. I’m tired of her constant “naying” without any visible plan to move the city forward for growth and prosperity.

We moved to New Brighton over 10 years ago from the Franklin Ave and 11th Avenue So. – a very blighted and sad neighborhood when the city ignored it and poverty attracted poverty.

We are thrilled with the quality of services, safety and atmosphere of this community. The new development is MUCH welcome over piles of asphalt, rows of gas tanks, a dirty restaurant and smoky dumpy bowling alley. Our property values are doing very well thanks to the management of the city staff and leaders minus Ms. Doffing and Ms. Bauman. If we do not keep up with investing in the development and maintenance of this community, the community will spiral to a third-class community filled with poverty and blight.

Please, you have my support to flex taxation to whatever Mr. Larson, Ms. Burg and Ms. Hoffman deem necessary to maintain and build this community.

Again, Ms. Bauman and Ms. Doffing – I’ve yet to hear your plan other than to cut money and services – oh, and to save all those churches and homes from eminent domain! If you win on reducing investment in this community, over time, I and many other residents with high incomes will pack up and leave you to live in the blight…welcome to the Phillips Neighborhood of the north!

P.S Phillips Neighborhood has been investing…and is doing much better.

7/23/2006 1:53 PM  

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