Chamber forum

Although other news sites said the Council “took some heat” and “mixed it up” at the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning, I’d rate the event as “very mild.”    No screaming, throwing, insulting, finger-pointing or other bad behavior took place, just a few tough questions (too few questions, if you ask me).   I’d boil down the concerns to 2 very legitimate concerns:

1. Money: The business community has been cutting budgets and jobs to try to survive in the down economy; tough choices are required.  The City, meanwhile, is raising its tax levy and thinking about building a new Safety Center and expanding the Library.    Mayor Rossing expressed her concern and frustration that the City realizes tax decisions weigh more heavily on commercial/industrial property owners due to a higher tax class rate and the added burden of a state property tax which residential property owners do not pay.   She’s right, of course, but this still doesn’t address the Chamber’s point that the City needs to cut costs and postpone spending because the money just isn’t there.

I’ll admit I’m struggling here, especially about our proposed capital projects.

On one hand, the City has put off capital improvements in the past so that we now find ourselves with several aging, cramped facilities which need repair or replacement.   We do not want the Safety Center, Library, City Hall, etc. to reach the point we reached with the outdoor pool which after years of patching (and thus years of knowing it was not sustainable)  simply failed and leaked thousands of gallons of water daily.   However, we also don’t want to make a decision like the outdoor pool replacement where a nice amenity, but not even close to an essential service  somehow took top priority and happened without consideration of other needs (and without a referendum).

On the other hand, the Chamber members are right, we don’t HAVE any money.  Can property owners bear the additional tax burden to BORROW the money?   As a homeowner, I don’t like to pay higher taxes, but I can.   Can our business properties afford these projects or will a new Safety Center kill off business?  If we waited two years and the economy recovered somewhat, would that be better? What other choices are there?

2. Development in Northfield: Why does it take so long and seem so difficult to get commercial projects reviewed, permitted and built in Northfield?  Certainly this question lurks as we struggle with our land development code, but those regulations – even if fabulous – won’t solve the problem.   And this complaint is not at all new – I’d love to hear from business people who’ve worked with Northfield and with other cities so they can help us understand what we’re not getting right.   I’d like to see the Council make efficient, predictable development review a very high priority and communicate this to the staff.  Look for more discussion of this topic as the land development code moves along – it’s a good time to raise this issue and make some progress.

One thought on “Chamber forum

  1. Betsey: I’m glad that the Councilors were listening.

    We had a Chamber retreat yesterday, October 28, and did some debreifing. I will be doing a recap for the Chamber members, for possible inclusion in the paper.

    Let me address the easy one first – The Land Development and the Code. What we are “not getting right” is attitude. At a previous meeting, someone asked Tracy Davis how could she explain the desire to make things simplier and more understandable, yet have the 290 page Code. Her answer, which was in jest, was “cognitive dissonance”. But, it is true. Northfield has a reputation as being unfriendly, and it is a well-deserved reputation. The City lacks faith in the ability of the market. What ends up happening is that we select out all the “undesirables” by creating barriers for everyone, making the market less desirable even for those considered “good” businesses.

    On the issue of money, the Chamber wants the City to exercise discipline. In business, we don’t have a choice. If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money. Government has other choices. And when times are tough, we need to focus on the essentials, and clearly define why they are essential.

    Is a new Safety Center essential? No. Ray Cox has a proposal that is 1/3rd or 1/4th the price. We are spending money on a bike trail that is clearly an amenity (and not a very good one at that). It isn’t essential. We really need to scrutinize all projects and/or expenditures of money. Borrowing money creates an additional set of problems because borrowing is more expensive than using current income.

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