August 3 meeting, a very full agenda

The next Council meeting – tonight!- has a very full agenda – not only many items, but meaty issues (Read the packet part 1, part 2, and part 3 carefully).   Hitting the highlights:

Item 13: Safety Center update. In response to the Council action on July 20 (see my previous post), KKE architects did a brief study and met with the Design Team to determine if a combined police/fire facility could be located on the Woodley/Highway 3 site.  We will hear their preliminary findings.  In addition, we will be be determining whether to approve a change in the scope of KKE’s work and their fees depending on the next steps.  My preference would be for the Council to direct that a feasibility analysis be performed for using the current Safety Center site for the police station (this was the “minority report” position from way back in Oct. 2009) as one way to rein in costs and “mission creep.”

Item 16: Welcome Center position: At our last meeting, we were scheduled to decide whether or not to re-establish the position of Welcome Center coordinator, but postponed our decision until Councilor Pownell completed her own fact-finding and meeting with community groups (read her notes here).   One way to look at this issue is to say the City saves money by eliminating this position and we need to save all the money we can in the current budget climate.  Another way is to look at what our Council goals are and look to fund them as best we can under the circumstances.  I believe the Welcome Center coordinator position is a key piece of the City’s social infrastructure which helps build “a foundation for a vibrant community where resources are carefully managed and preserved and which integrates economic, environmental and community values for long term success.”   We do need to make substantial reductions in City spending, but this is a relatively small expense which can be offset in other areas (but we still need to have the big picture discussion…).

Item 17: Identify interim administrator candidates: The proposed motion is to approve the “candidate list for interviews.”  Council members each read the 6 applications received and scored them and now we will choose which candidates to interview next week.  We have not discussed how many candidates to interview, so I do not know whether the list will simply be a ranked list of all 6 or some other configuration.  The scoring criteria were developed by Mayor Rossing and did not provide much opportunity for qualitative scoring; rather they focused on number of years of experience and level of education attained.  As a result,  candidates I would like to have scored very highly may not have fared very well under this system and vice versa.

Item 18: Consider establishing Ad Hoc Finance Study Group.  Another of our Council goals was to form a financial study group of community experts to help the City evaluate our financial situation and make recommendations for policy changes.  Tonight we will decide whether or not to establish this group.  The “potential framework” from the staff report is for the group to provide the Council with recommendations (1) “on financial strategies that could be implemented in the short-term to compensate for reductions in revenue coming from state aid in 2011” and (2) “on strategies for the ongoing long- term financial health of the City.”  I believe we would benefit from having a small subcommittee consider applications and make recommendations to the full Council rather than putting the responsibility solely in the hands of the Mayor; there is enough diversity of opinion about financial matters on the Council that I think broader input is desirable.  Beyond that, I do think the City needs some expert advice from outside our staff.  When we are asking for drastic reductions including staff positions, it makes sense to get some objective recommendations from individuals whose jobs are not on the line.  As well, I’ve had several people volunteer for this committee who are financially expert and deeply invested in Northfield and its success – I want to know what a committee of people like this have to say.

Item 19: Budget stuff. Should we still be conscious by the time we reach item #19, this item has 4 separate parts.

  1. provide direction about the format of the August 23 public forum on the budget. My main concern is ensuring broad publicity – we need you and all your friends to attend and tell us your ideas and concerns.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably already paying attention to city issues, but we’re always hoping to reach those folks beyond the inner circle.
  2. provide direction on the loss of Market Value Homestead Credit Aid.  MVHCA is the property tax credit given to individual homeowners which is then reimbursed to the City – like local government aid, this has been cut by the legislature – about $288,000 of lost revenue for the City.  Do we assume this aid is disappearing forever along with LGA and how do we make up the shortfall?
  3. 2011 Employee Compensation agreement: we’ve had a hard freeze of no colst of living increases and no step increases for 2010.  In 2011, we are faced with the same question of raising wages/step increases.  It is not clear from the staff report whether we are voting to say yes, no, or how much to increases or whether we are “providing direction.”  For the MVHCA and this item, I STILL want to have the bigger discussion about budget items rather than this piecemeal decision-making.
  4. Organizational structure: Last, but not least, we are asked to approve Administrator Walinski’s proposed reorganization or punt it to either the interim or next permanent administrator.  Given the lack of relevant information about costs, savings, how services will or won’t be delivered, and what policy goals this reorganization is intended to further I cannot possibly support this initiative.

2 Replies to “August 3 meeting, a very full agenda”

  1. Of great concern to me as I observe the Council this summer for the League of Women Voters, is a basic deficiency that I perceive in the information for decision making: the relevant and specific financial analysis .

    Reconsiderations should be relatively rare, and yet we have had two this month: both based on the councilors’ feelings that they must ask for reconsideration because of not having had a full plate of information on the first go-round.
    IMO, this is a serious deficiency which not only contributes to bad decision making, but wastes time in the requiring the reconsideration process.

    The fault lies, again IMO, in two places: the staff reports, and the lack of support from other councilors when a reconsideration is requested.
    Some of these issues have begun to take on a personal aspect, rather than an substance based discussion.

    I would hope , that with an interim, or new full-time administrator, the Council can lay out a directive that provides
    for all the information needed to make a fact-based, rather than a ‘gut’ decision, and that it will not be considered wrong to ask the staff for whatever any councilor needs to come to that fact-based conclusion.

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