Thursday, July 30, 2009

Red Wing’s budget input campaign
Minnesota cities are finding a variety of ways to reach out and engage their citizens in the work of the city. Here is a good example, reprinted from the most recent issue of Minnesota Cities magazine, of how active citizen engagement is happening around the state.

The City of Red Wing (population 16,338) recently embarked on a focused citizen engagement campaign to get input on the budget crisis resulting from looming cuts in state aid. According to Deanna Sheely, Red Wing communications director, it’s not unusual for the city to seek public input on projects, "but this was a monster. We’re looking at losing 15 to 18 percent of the budget. That means we can’t continue to provide all the services we’ve been providing. We wanted to know what residents think is least important and what they couldn’t do without." In an effort to get that input, the city hosted four public forums and conducted a survey (available in print and online). In addition, the city educated its residents about the situation in a variety of ways, including through educational presentations, articles in the city newsletter, and in news videos that air on the local government access channel as well as on and "We had a total of about 500 people who either attended a public forum, completed a survey, or submitted input in some other way," says Sheely, who admits the process was not scientific.
"You tend to hear from the squeaky wheel" she says. "Also, you get very contradictory responses. Half might say get rid of the fire department, while the other half says we need more firefighters." Still, the city learned of some overwhelming public desires that helped them make decisions. Although this citizen engagement effort was focused on one topic, Sheely says she believes it will have broad and long-lasting effects. For one thing, during the public forums people learned a lot about the city and how it operates. The process also built more trust in the city government, especially since residents see that the city is already following through on some suggestions. For example, she says, the city newsletter came up high on the list of services to cut. So the city made changes that resulted in a savings of more than $10,000. Also, through this process, the city heard from many people who don’t usually speak up. "That’s exciting because it indicates a new level of interest in local government," Sheely says. "My hope is that people will stay engaged."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Taxing St. Peter to pay for St. Paul
It's not unusual for any Minnesotan to visit friends and relatives, to work, and/or to play in cities other than their city of residence on almost a daily basis. Is it reasonable, then, for Minnesotans to expect nearly the same quality of street maintenance, police protection, drinking water and other public services from city-to-city throughout the state? Local government aid (LGA) for cities was initiated more than 35 years ago, in part, to ensure that level of consistency. League of Minnesota Cities executive director Jim Miller addresses this issue in a commentary, shown below, that was originally published earlier this summer in Minnesota Cities magazine.

Why tax St. Peter to pay for St. Paul? This was the eye-catching title of a recent letter to the editor in the Star Tribune wherein the writer criticized local government aid (LGA) as an unwarranted example of wealth transfer. He posed the question of why, for example, citizens in Pine City should pay more in taxes to support services in Edina. He added that if residents in any community want services, they, not others, should pay for them.

In reality, the LGA program is intended to benefit those cities with relatively lower property wealth, not the reverse. Moreover, because the LGA appropriation is part of the much larger state budget setting dynamic, it is simplistic at best to generalize that residents in one community pay for services in another. In fact, state funding for all programs involves wealth transfer. (Complete article in pdf format...)

Friday, July 17, 2009

League honors 27 Minnesota lawmakers as 2009 Legislators of Distinction
The League of Minnesota Cities has selected 13 State Senators and 14 members of the Minnesota House of Representatives as Legislators of Distinction for 2009. The honor recognizes legislators for specific actions that aided efforts of Minnesota cities during the 2009 legislative session. Legislators of Distinction are chosen yearly to emphasize the fact that in order to successfully serve commonly-shared constituents, state and city officials must work together to meet the unique needs of rural, suburban, and urban main streets all across Minnesota. Legislators of Distinction for 2009 are:

Minnesota House of Representatives
Rep. Tony Cornish, R- Good Thunder
Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Kent Eken, DFL- Twin Valley
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park
Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead
Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth
Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park
Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids
Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Nelson Township

Minnesota Senate
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook
Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley
Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis
Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel
Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm
Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester
Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope
Sen. Sandy Rummel, DFL-White Bear Lake
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt

Friday, July 10, 2009

New state law affecting city traffic violations goes into effect soon
Just days after the 2009 legislative session adjourned, Gov. Pawlenty signed into law a bill (supported by the League of Minnesota Cities) that allows local units of government and the State Patrol to enforce low-level traffic offenses with administrative citations.

The new law will take effect Aug. 1, 2009. However, the State Department of Public Safety has until Oct. 1 to design the uniform administrative ticket. League staff has assembled a tool kit to assist cities that want to exercise the authority provided by this legislation.

The kit is designed for city officials and the casual viewer is likely to find it highly technical and dense. City residents may be interested, though, in the FAQ section (pages 4-6) that provides a basic description of how the new law will directly impact traffic violators.

Advantages of the new law:
--Administrative citations provide an alternative to warnings, which have no consequences, and costly state tickets, which some believe carry a disproportionate penalty for low-level offenses such as speeding less than 10 miles per hour above the posted limit.

--The use of administrative citations for low-level traffic offenses has been an effective public safety tool. Local law enforcement officers have used administrative citations for minor violations that might otherwise be warnings. Administrative citations have been shown to positively change driving behavior.

--Representatives of the courts have repeatedly stated that district courts are overburdened, and that they are facing unprecedented funding challenges. Given these conditions, it makes sense to keep low-level violations out of the district court system.