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Monday, September 24, 2007

New Brighton Financials: Improvement Shown, But Lots of Work Still Needed

The New Brighton City Council voted to adopt a proposed 2008 levy increase of 3.94% over the 2007 levy. This figure, which was submitted to Ramsey County to comply with the September 15th deadline, represents the maximum amount the final levy increase can after the Truth in Taxation hearing and final vote by the council in early December.

While the relatively low increase (compared to the past few years when the proposed increase was in the 12-14% range) is a definite indication of progress made by those of us who have been demanding fiscal responsibility from local government, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Keeping the increase about in line with inflation is clearly an improvement over previous years, but the fact remains that the city continues to increase spending each year.

Spending needs to actually be cut (as in spending less money, not just cutting the rate that spending is increased) to begin to reverse the unchecked trend of local government spending beyond its means. It is interesting to note that our neighboring community of Mounds View has submitted a zero-increase proposed levy for the third year in a row without any apparent negative consequences.

Politicians like to refer to a "small" 4% increase as a "cut" relative to the out of line 12%+ increases of the past, but the fact is that a 4% increase (which, remember, will be compounded with the increases of the past years) is still an increase - spending has gone up. So even though the word "cut" will be proudly bandied about by politicians, especially those up for re-election, it is not a true cut. In contrast, in the private sector a cut of "x%" in one's salary to help the company weather tough financial times truly means that the employee will actually receive x% less pay.

This is why we need to continue to press our elected officials to make real cuts in spending. In terms of dollars that will be spent, the proposed budget for New Brighton actually reflects more than the advertised 3.94% increase. The city is counting on increased revenues to cover the spending, but if the money ends up getting spent (would you bet against it?) and the revenue isn't there the city will end up, one way or another, getting it from the only source government can get money from: we the already over-taxed people. The bottom line is that city government does not have a revenue shortfall problem - it has an out of control spending problem.

We must also be on the watch for financial gamesmanship. During the budget talks for 2007 the percentage increase figure was trimmed substantially by moving some items off of the formal budget through deferral to future bonding measures in a kind of a Clintonesque it depends on how you define "the budget" maneuver or through other accounting slight of hand (for example some creative juggling of TIF revenues). There is also the murky world of "franchise fees" where effective hidden taxes are collected as pass through charges on utility bills or other service charges. For all practical purposes this constitutes a tax that cannot be deducted on individual (or corporate for that matter) state or federal tax returns. It also has the smell of a sneaky way to collect taxes from supposedly tax exempt entities such as churches and non-profits.

A couple of City Council meetings ago in her closing statement Council Member Sharon Doffing mentioned the need to shine the light of public discussion on the way franchise fees are incorporated into the New Brighton financial picture. Mayor Steve Larson did not appear to want any part of this and abruptly closed off discussion, clearly giving the impression that he did not want to pursue the topic before the upcoming election (in which he is subject to dismissal by the voters).

Although the city has a ways to go, some progress on the fiscal responsibility front is better than none at all. The resignation of former City Manager Matt Fulton (one of the driving forces behind the city's "Stay the NWQ Course at Any Cost") and subsequent replacement by Dean Lotter has led to much more fiscal restraint as indicated by the current lowest proposed levy increase in recent memory. Things started changing for the better two years ago after Sharon Doffing, the only conservative voice on the council, was re-elected and Gina Bauman (another conservative) was elected to the council. Bauman joined with Doffing to question some of the business as usual practices of the city and opposed a lot of the big spending pushed by the Gang of Three.

This fall, with two qualified challengers for Mayor and two candidates for council who are not part of the GO3, the voters of New Brighton will have the opportunity to finish the overhaul of city government they started with the last election.

Go for it!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have come across this blog by searching on Google for something else. I noticed that the comments about N B are mainly from Right Hook and another person. I believe I remember that Right Hook is a spoke person for the two N B city council members who are right wing folks with no foresight. I have always thought that those two women and there supporters would have voted against paved roads. They may get their way if money in not raised and spent on Minnesota roads. Lets not have any more of these kind of of thinkers on the N B city council. Since the HOOK controls the web site I am sure these comments will not be on the blog.
Wayne Sether

10/13/2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

"Anonymous" -

So much for liberal tolerance of the free expression of ideas. I don't know where you "remember" that "Right Hook is a spoke person for..." from (whatever a "spoke person" may be) , but your statement is without any basis in fact.

Posters on this blog tend to agree with certain members of the council on many issues but do not speak for them any more than you speak for the ones you agree with. Like any other citizen I support the politicians that for the most part support my views and oppose the ones who I feel are leading the city in the wrong direction. I am an unapologetic conservative (as are the other people who contribute to this blog) as much as you seem to be an unapologetic liberal. In my view you just don't "get" the conservative viewpoint. That's fine, as I fully admit that I don't "get" the liberal viewpoint and often point out why I believe the conservative philosophy is correct and the liberal one is misguided.

"the HOOK" does not control this web site--it is a collaborative effort of a small group of people who happen to have much in common in the way we think, but we don't even always agree with each other. Some, like myself, find local issues more interesting while others are more interested in national, international, and/or social issues. The policy of this blog is to allow, and even encourage, dissenting viewpoints as long as they are civil and make a reasonably intelligent point. We used to have completely unmoderated comments until a couple of people abused the privilege and forced us to enable screening.

As long as your comments are not abusive, obscene, or violate the privacy rights of others they are welcomed and encouraged. Please note that even though your comment is in disagreement with the viewpoints of most of the contributors, it met the other criteria and was let through without modification.

We're glad you found our blog and encourage you to continue to come back and participate in the discourse if you are so moved. If you do not like the views expressed on this blog no one forces you to come here. There are plenty of other blogs you can go to or you can even go to http://www.blogger.com and start your own for free. If you do start your own let us know and we will even give you a plug and link to it.

By the way, conservatives have nothing against paved roads. We do have a lot against government taxing at near confiscatory rates, spending it foolishly, and then coming back to the taxpayers claiming that there is no money to pave the roads unless we pony up more. Let's not have any more of these kind of thinkers at any level of government.

10/13/2007 11:20 PM  
Blogger Daria said...


To reiterate, "the HOOK" does not control this blog. As a matter of fact, this blog was up and running quite a while before either Right Hook or I (and a few of the other current contributors) came on board. You should check out our statement regarding the goals of the blog.

Actually it was fortunate for you that "the HOOK" happened to see your pending comment before I did because I probably would have summarily trash canned it on the grounds of it being an irrational rant.

As far as your comment that New Brighton Council members Sharon Doffing and Gina Bauman (I assume these are "those two women") may have voted against paved roads, let's set the record straight. I've been following New Brighton government for a long time before I started blogging and both Bauman and Doffing are FOR prioritizing core services such as roads, policing, sewer and water, not, as you suggest, voting AGAINST funding these services first.

A prime example is how Council Member Doffing has pointed out that the city should not have forced Midwest Asphalt out of the city because without its presence in New Brighton the city's annual road construction costs have gone up around $100,000. This is because the cost for road construction materials have significantly risen due to the increased fees associated with the distance involved in the transportation of the asphalt!

Doffing also voted against taking the Asphalt plant by eminent domain; an ethical principle she has always stood on that also happens to make fiscal sense. In the end, New Brighton taxpayers paid 19 million dollars for Midwest Asphalt without knowing the underlying geotechnical problems and pollution. The other members on the Council at the time (Gina Bauman had not yet been elected) voted to buy the asphalt property virtually sight unseen and without the benefit of a thorough cost/benefit and risk analysis for the citizens of New Brighton.

I believe was unethical and reckless the way Mayor Steve Larson and the other council members promised to hand over land the city did not own to NWQ developers. Actually, they didn't just hand it over - they voted for the city to buy the land and take it off of the tax roles with the intent on eventually re-selling it to a developer. Now the City of New Brighton is stuck with 10 acres that can not build on that cost taxpayers 1.9 million dollars per acre (not exactly a bargain price). These very expensive 10 acres will more than likely become a 19 million dollar green space right next to Long Lake Regional Park. And people of your kind of thinking have the audacity and intellectual dishonesty to whine that there is no money for roads?

I think Council Members Doffing and Bauman DO have foresight that the rest of the council you seem to support lack when it comes to making important decisions in the City of New Brighton.

Fortunately in the upcoming election the voters have a chance to replace Mayor Larson and Council Member Mary Burg with people (such as Terry Post and David Phillips) who also appear to have this foresight.

- D

10/14/2007 11:42 AM  

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