Eric Hagen of ABC newspapers reported online, July 10:
After listening to a few comments and answering questions from residents, the Ham Lake City Council June 25 approved a draft of the 2030 comprehensive plan.
Drafts of the plan will be sent to neighboring cities, affected school districts and the watershed districts that cover Ham Lake. The council will review the questions and feedback before sending a final draft to the Metropolitan Council.
The council approved the draft comprehensive plan on a 3-1 vote. Councilmember Jolynn Erikson was absent from the meeting because of a prior commitment but sided with Councilmembers Julie Braastad, Gary Kirkeide and Diane Theodorski on the sewer and water vote.
The biggest decision that affected this comprehensive plan was not partnering with the Metropolitan Council or the city of East Bethel to bring sewer and water infrastructure to Ham Lake. The Metropolitan Council cannot have a say in this vote. Rather it reviews each city’s comprehensive plan and states whether it is developing infrastructure in a way to meet the council’s stated goals.
For example, the Metropolitan Council presently classifies Ham Lake as a rural residential community and requires an average density throughout the community of at least 2.5 acres per dwelling unit. Ham Lake will meet that goal in its 2030 comprehensive plan.
Mayor Paul Meunier voted against the 2030 comprehensive plan because he felt it did not set councils up well if council members eventually felt the time was right to bring in sewer and water. An earlier draft version of the plan stated that future councils could consider sewer and water infrastructure development. Meunier wanted this language kept in, but the other four council members did not.
“In my opinion, it’s unrealistic to say we’re going to get to some point and we’re going to stop growing,” Meunier said. “There’s going to be councils down the road that are going to go, ‘What are we going to do for economic development? What are we going to do for growth?’”
Kirkeide said given the economy there may not be much growth in 10 years. He noted that this is really a 10-year plan because the Metropolitan Council requires cities to update its comprehensive plans every 10 years. The 2040 comprehensive plans will be due at the end of 2018 and this plan of course could change the course of what happens before 2030.
Resident Dennis Guimont pointed to the Ham Lake city survey conducted by Decision Resources to state there was support to explore sewer and water. When 400 residents were asked what is the most serious issue facing Ham Lake today, 27 percent said it is the lack of sewer and water. This was the top response followed by 22 percent of the respondents stating there is too much growth.
[emphasis added] Such surveys are suspect without knowing how respondent individuals were chosen, or how questioning was worded. If a sub-neighborhood is having septic tank or well problems, and was disproportionately represented in the survey, the thing is discredited and of no value. The ABC report continued:
Resident Mike Van Kirk referred to a Feb. 12 meeting where around 200 residents showed up and showed a disinterest in bringing in sewer and water.
“I think the people have been forthright and I don’t think that by just keeping the issue alive week after week after week after week after week is going to change their minds,” Van Kirk said.
All that is fine and fair, and there's more to the article than quoted. The link is given above, please read the entire thing. It was fair reporting.
So why this, for the paper:
Well, without giving any other councilmembers, the majority after all, an opportunity to write a counter oped piece, the mayor - the lone wolf championing profligate growth threats who was soundly outvoted by the rest - had a lengthy editorial subsequently published, here, where in it he insinuated his views as if noncontroversial and as if the position he's advocated is favoring lower rather than increased taxation of existing residents:
Public works needs additional storage to protect its equipment from the elements and prolong our investment in these machines. The main building either needs to be expanded or a new one needs to be built. Like the main fire station, it has already been expanded yet we find it now needs many upgrades for it to function effectively in the future. Again, we need to determine the feasibility of adding on versus building a new one. As with the fire station, the council is considering putting out a request for proposals (RFP) to help ascertain the best approach to take on this building.
All of this comes with the state Legislature passing a new law this year which caps cities’ levy increases to 3.9 percent. So much for local control! And the irony is that this has been done by an administration that has repeatedly pushed for more local control by deferring state funding problems to city and county governments.
I know this seems overwhelming, but rest assured no one is suggesting that all of this should be resolved immediately. No one wants to raise taxes, but let’s no longer kid ourselves. Ham Lake has some very pressing needs that must be addressed. These problems are not new and have been on the horizon for some time. How long do we put them off? If a levee is leaking wouldn’t you suggest repairing it before it breaches?
In my opinion, we have two choices – continue to increase property taxes on residential property for many years or allow infrastructure and growth to meet our financial demands. I prefer the latter. In the recent city survey, 58 percent of residents oppose raising taxes to maintain current levels of service and 74 percent oppose increasing taxes to improve services. Since residents don’t want to raise taxes, we need to find an economic engine that will serve the city for the next 15-25 years.
The infrastructure I’m speaking of is commercial development. Commercial property pays nearly twice as much in taxes compared with residential property. Development of a downtown center is not just something that would be nice; it’s something that needs to be done for our long-term health. In the same survey cited above, 50 percent of residents supported the idea as well as 84 percent of the planning task force. Unfortunately, the council rejected the idea and removed all language in the comprehensive plan that outlines this possibility.
Ham Lake has to move forward. Protecting our rural character means becoming proactive and managing growth. The long-term viability of the city depends on our willingness to adapt to these changing times. In my opinion, our unwillingness to allow for infrastructure has placed us behind the eight ball. We now have a very serious financial predicament.
[emphasis added]. As if "moving forward" means agreeing with his opinions, indeed.
The man has a hidden presumption that sewer-water will bring commercial growth but it instead, look at Ramsey, has brought in cheap crowded housing where servicing household needs exceeds the increased tax income. And as if all the rest of the north metro is not also seeking commercial growth, businesses where tax increment financing bribes have to be given and one locale can be played off against another by crafty business owners. Sewer-water brings more costly growth than it generates in added tax income. Ramsey, being profligate in its growth with the present council at fault, is now talking of building a multimillion dollar water plant taking river water, where deep well water sufficed previously. Santa Clause will not pay for that plant. Taxpapers will. The Ham Lake mayor's propaganda for his position neglected to say, regarding local control, that local control worked in his city when the entire balance of the council in an act of local control over profligate growth handed him his head on the notion that Ham Lake should prostitute itself to growth and developers or that taxes would have to rise precipitously.
The claim that housing rooftops lessens tax burden is an urban myth. Ramsey did prostitute itself that way, and look at the relative growth of citizen property tax rate hits that Ramsey people ended up taking year after year over the past eight years, in tax increases, in comparison to Ham Lake which has showed cautious restraint, and report the truth.
Let us hope that out of a sense of fair play and decency, the majority of the Ham Lake city council can submit a counter editorial item, explaining that taxes are being held more in check in their municipality by constricting growth; and that ABC newspapers will be fair, and publish it.