When last we discussed the public safety facilities, we affirmed that the Woodley site (Highway 3 and Woodley Street) was the preferred site for the fire station AND asked KKE to do some preliminary work to determine whether a joint facility could fit on the site plus provide a proposal for changes to the fee arrangement to account for this change in plans if we moved ahead with a joint facility on the Woodley site.
KKE did as we requested and showed that it is possible to put a joint facility on the Woodley site, but when it came to spending more money, the Council said “no.” In addition to refusing to spend more for KKE to press ahead with design, the Council also voted 5-2 (Mayor Rossing and Councilman Denison voting against) to wait to take further action until we could determine the Woodley site would, in fact, be available (the site is owned by MNDoT and is used for their truck station. MNDoT is planning to relocate this facility to Dundas pending environmental testing; we don’t anticipate a decision from MNDoT until November)
The Northfield News described this as hitting “yet another stumbling block,” but I’d spin it differently. Tuesday’s action is a smart move which gives the Council time to check our work, crunch the numbers, and build strong partnerships before we ask taxpayers to pay for our decisions. What we need to be doing while MNDoT makes up its mind:
Checking our work: the scope of the public safety projects has grown after establishing a preliminary not to exceed cost of $8.5 million back in December 2009. Mayor Rossing insists the Council agreed we wanted a higher quality facility, thus the higher cost. However, we have never taken action (at minimum a motion, 2nd and a vote) to raise the limit on spending. Now’s the time to set the budget and then determine what we can build within that limit. The former “minority opinion” has never been studied to determine whether it is feasible, but the idea of remodeling the current Safety Center is an idea which hasn’t completely died in discussions around town. We should revisit this one.
Crunching the numbers: Councilor Pokorney has asked to see the full taxpayer impact of LGA cuts combined with proposed capital spending. I’d change his request and ask: given LGA cuts (and declining property tax revenues due to lower property values) and our City priorities, what can we afford? What’s the total most citizens are willing to pay for city government services and facilities? We can not continue to consider capital spending apart from our operating budget.
Building our partnerships: Administrator Walinski claims he has had “conversations” with Northfield “partners” who include Carleton and St Olaf, the rural fire association, and Dundas. We expect these partners to make substantial financial contributions to our public safety facilities, but I think we need to invite them to the table to consider their needs and their input before we ask for cash.
Indeed, I’d say the MNDoT triggered pause gives us the time to do what we should have done already. The Mayor has asked that we all “get behind” these projects and I hope this change of pace will help me do that.