I’m getting behind in the blogging and, for that matter, almost everything else, too. Quick round-up:
1. Social media use by local government in the US – a Griff Wigley webinar production on Monday, October 1 @ 8 pm. I’m a panelist and I’m guessing I’ll be part of the discussion on the “hurdles” local gov’t officials encounter in using or advocating for social media use. My position remains unchanged – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. provide more opportunities for increasing the visibility and accessibility of local government, but not without costs in time and management and the ‘Andy Warhol effect’ of decreasing the importance of the information by bombarding us with so much of it all the time.
2. Wind power again: Having just suggested that blogging, etc. creates too much information, now I’ll complain about too little. The Rice County Planning Commission is holding public hearings on Thursday, November 4 on either 5 or 1 wind project(s) on the south edge of Northfield. County ordinance requires that neighboring jurisdictions be notified in order to review and comment. Unfortunately, while Northfield city staff did receive the required notice, but Brian O’Connell did not pass this along until Councilor Jim Pokorney asked about the issue after hearing about it from a neighbor to the project. Here’s the notice:
Item 6: Anna Schmalzbauer of Spring Creek Wind LLC, on behalf of landowners Dave and Jacquelyn Hubers, has applied for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for two commercial wind turbines, each turbine having a generating capacity of 1.8 to 2.0 MW. The property is described as: P/O the W1⁄2 of the NW1⁄4 of Section 17 and P/O the E1⁄2 of the NE1⁄4 of Section 18, Northfield Township, Rice County, Minnesota. The project address is: 8813 110th St E., Northfield, MN 55057. The property is zoned UR, Urban Reserve.
Now there’s the time crunch since the Council does not meet Nov. 2 (election) and the hearing is Nov. 4. Mr O’Connell also suggested that individual Council members could convey their input to the County PC…but that’s not review and comment by the City, now is it? Tim Madigan has contacted County staff to try to delay decision-making and individual Council members are encouraged to do the same. But wait, there’s more (or less). Because the information was so minimal, I went looking for more. The PC agenda shows there is not 1 but 5 wind project applications, but does not provide any further information beyond a paragraph like the one above for each application. Fortunately, utility law watchdog Carol Overland has been following this one on her blog Legalectric. The quick summary: this is the same people who attempted a wind farm in Greenvale township; Ms Overland provides the documentation. I’m still looking for a wind project to support, but this isn’t it (Neither was this).
3. Budget: I failed. I asked Mayor Rossing and former administrator Joel Walinski for a bigger picture, policy-based budget discussion repeatedly, but I failed to convince them or most of my fellow Council members of the necessity of doing more than approving small cuts to the status quo without any discussion of the large capital expenses being considered. The shift in administrators in September caused a hiccup in process and now that it is almost November, I think it is safe to say that we’ve lost a budget year and any discussions of real structural changes or shifts in priority will have to take place for 2012. Coming up: EDA discussion on 11/23, report from the ad hoc finance group 11/30, final levies to be adopted 12/7.
4. Land development code. Sigh. 2 years ago when campaigning, I said this was a high priority for 2009. 2 years ago I decided it was not politically possible for a brand new Council member to ask to send the abysmal draft out to a competent consultant (if there are any) because of the pressure to reduce the use of consultants, the admission of failure on the part of the staff which would have been required to do so and the desire to help then new Mayor Rossing unify the new Council. Another failure on my part. The Council is scheduled to receive the “complete” draft in December with the public hearing and public information session to be held in January and adoption by March. Rather a Catch-22 at this point – adopt a code which is still internally inconsistent with policies which have not been reviewed or take even longer.
5. Utility rates. We adopted new utility rates and a new water rate structure (see the project website). The new rate structure is intended to comply with MN Stat. 103G.291, Subd. 4 mandating a “conservation rate structure” by 2013 and the theory is that using more water should cost more. Two observations about this process.
- The policy framework for setting rates is simple: a system needs to collect enough revenue to cover debt, depreciation, reserves, and operation and maintenance expenses. We can argue about the appropriate level of reserves, but the rest should be pretty easy to demonstrate. I still can’t tell you how the new rates cover these costs because although we saw many rate scenarios and discussed many numbers, we didn’t get the simple spreadsheet indexing costs to rates.
- “Conservation” is relative. The new rates include a base charge which includes 500 cubic feet of water, then there is an additional charge for water above the 500 c.f. base. (actually, two tiers of increasing costs the more you use). If you really conserve water, however, and use less than 500 c.f. per month then you are, in fact, penalized for conservation under the new rate structure.