consultants are sandburs

Thursday, October 17, 2013

RAMSEY - Last anticipated post on franchise fees.

I am comfortable with the engineering being sound, in terms of road age and scheduled maintenance. I hope for the sane approach of looking at that schedule, and boots on ground inspection by engineering or public works of actual roadways and traffic levels before prioritizing solely on age, but the plan as presented, (and trusted as not including more than maintenance as posted in general on the city web site), is definitive.

It does not include stealth extension of sewer/water, a key worry to many, nor curb/gutter dressing not justified in terms of usage levels or storm water runoff realities. With the sandy soils we have and the wetlands that need groundwater to be maintained in good order, it is unwise to plan (for now as things are) on our rain getting channeled downriver to Memphis and not allowed to naturally enter our wetland-aquifer ground water reservoirs. The aquifers need constant recharging - they are where municipal and private wells reach - and they will remain as filled as feasible with ground water kept where the rain falls, here, where we reside. We are not a flood prone community and we have suffered several drought years in a row. With those as arguments against spending now on storm water runoff redirection in our large-lot residential areas, the fact appears to be that no such "extra cost window dressing" is involved in the present road-spending proposal. No stealth sewer/water, no curbs or culverts and such that would only make winter snow plowing with the grader more difficult. None of that "fat" to the situation.

HENCE, BOTTOM LINE on civic need and conservative bare-bones planning - it is maintenance, not tarting things up with tricks or unessential extras.

So the need end is clear - for those enamored with the need vs. wants cliche, (something that I use only in belittling it and those finding it useful to demagoguery).

NEXT - It is greatly offensive to hear as if it were sound argument, "We all use the roads the same so we should all pay a flat franchise fee, it should not be levied where owners of more ostentatious lands and homes pay more." Those people saying that would not dare to make the equally stupid assertion, "I have no children in the schools so I should not pay a penny in school taxes." The arguments are equivalent, and each argument is equally sound, which is to say each is wholly spurious. Public roads are not financed on a usage basis, toll roads are.

NEXT - If there are limits and the levy rate for 2014 is set in a way it cannot be revisited and amended, then an argument can be made for an interim - emergency franchise fee for the very, very short term and not as an ongoing policy. As a needed band aid for the council not having had the courage or judgment earlier to levy as needed because of fear of the demagoguery of folks like Harold Hamilton and Phil Krinkie and their Taxpayer League mischief. Or whatever the reasoning was in setting the budget to not allow for road upkeep, as if it were an extra.

NEXT - I voted for who I did on council expecting courage in decision making, and avoidance of clear stupidities (e.g, no repeat of Landform and massive subsidizing of the Flaherty eyesore). I thought that, on ballot, those I favored and voted for would do the better job vs. those on ballot I did not favor. The election is over. The present council is not responsible for the last, and error and mismanagement from before need correction even if it means a levy increase [as the better choice over a backhanded franchise fee imposition]. Argument over whether the road needs were ignored too long, or not, is unproductive. The need is now, regardless.

NEXT - If a truth emerges that levy limits prevent all necessary things being funded, then the answer is the LMC and cities are capable of making the case to the legislature and either having the levy limits raised or scuttled. But this franchise fee stuff makes that more sound approach harder to implement than otherwise, and hence should not be our local choice.

NEXT - Once the decision has been made, it's done and we can and should move on. This is a most important point. This is not a Landform-Darren messup situation where those lacking the skills, including Darren, were playing town developer with hubris that they could somehow evade the realities of the real estate market and push on a rope and do magic. That absurdity has been put to rest3 New people - and good holdovers - with sounder approaches will have to make a decision and they are not capricious in approaching it, despite some stuff here on Crabgrass of a parody nature.

The present council in my mind is well motivated, capable, and wholly honest in policy thinking and in all detail. Individuals on council may differ on policy beliefs, but each individual evidences good faith and capability.

Now, whether Ramsey needs an EDA and an HRA and whether the HRA should be rolled up - that question in particular since it was the vehicle of the Darren debacle - those are questions apart from the roads.

It can be frustrating to see an over-built more costly than needed city hall and a virtually non-used rail stop, but today's decisions, in any sound approach, are not based on sunk costs and past error, they are based on today's present situation as best understood, and tomorrow's as best guessed.

It might be that twenty-years from now folks will be saying, "Boy, am I ever glad for Northstar and that great city hall." I doubt it, and twenty years from now I likely will be dead so that nobody can hunt me down and say, "I told you so." And if that great Nirvana state of gratitude for the city hall, Town Center, and Northstar decisions fails to happen, I will be likewise gone to not be able to be on the giving end of "I told you so."

However, all of that is apart from the need to keep up the road grid.

BOTTOM LINE: In a few weeks a decision on how the roads should be funded will be made. My hope is levy will be the ongoing approach. Logic, to me, says avoid the franchise fee except for emergency, and use levy as government has relied on that approach over the ages to fund clearly needed public goods. Appreciate the wisdom of that approach. Appreciate its general fairness between the more and less able to pay.

If levy is not chosen as the long term road upkeep solution the danger will exist of a perpetual franchise fee that continually escalates and reaches to more and more beyond road-earmarking, becoming a larger and larger proportion of total civic revenue. That is the slippery-slope risk to things. While I can live with it and so can you if franchise fee ballooning happens, I would not like it, nor should you.

BOTTOM LINE AGAIN: Once the current decision has been reached, whatever is decided, live with it, move on, and respect that council work is not easy and that the pay is such that you really are talking about civic-minded volunteers. Entirely so, and if you have never run you know your reasons, so you should respect those who do run, get elected, and do a decent, honest credible job while in office. Whenever it may seem to you less than that is at play you can complain, and there is the next ballot box for redress.

It is how the system has been set up. Admittedly there are those who would game the system with demagoguery, but sound thinking people who take the time to study and understand things can avoid being misled by smooth rhetoric.

History teaches - One of the major failings of Pawlenty was the "call it a cigarette fee" stuff when he should have stood up to the Taxpayer League -and- Grover Norquist contingent, confronting them head on for the impediment to sound government their keening presented. (That of course was not the only Pawlenty failing but a major one.) On the other hand, the Abeler vote with five other Republicans of courage to override the Pawlenty veto was a high-point in Abeler's political career, whatever else he has done or declined to do.

So, argue as strongly as you choose for or against using the franchise fee approach, while understanding the reality is that the roads need to be kept fixed and fixing the roads needs to somehow be financed. More government revenue will be needed one way or the other.

Respect the final decision whatever it is, and move on. If really disturbed, await the next ballot box opportunity. But do not be deluded by anyone who was most instrumental in buying the distressed sad and sorry Town Center project out of hock without that being put to a popular vote, stepping up to a microphone and saying put the franchise fee to a popular vote.

Buying that land from foreclosure and playing impatient developer against market realities might have been tempting to try, but that was a more discretionary situation than road maintenance. More a want than anybody's real need. It was done without any popular vote, so figure out who you are dealing with when now you hear a suggestion the franchise fee situation requires a plebiscite from one then in power and declining to put the more discretionary land purchase decision to popular vote scrutiny.

That's it. The term "franchise fee" shall not be a part of any follow up Crabgrass post over the present road maintenance question.

If over time mischief over franchise fee usage is perceived, things may be pointed out then, but with regard to the present situation: Commentary against franchise fee usage instead of using the general levy already has been posted in detail. There will be council action. The chips will fall as they may.

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