4/26/2013 12:52:00 PM Public hearing May 7
on Wyoming road bond
by DENISE MARTIN
Wyoming City Council is laying the groundwork to sell a specific type of financing to pay for roadwork long-deferred in the city center. The money to be used to pay-off these bonds won’t be coming in through parcel assessments, but would be paid for citywide.
Council needs a unanimous vote, under state stautes, to adopt “A Plan” as the basis for how bond revenues will be used. There-in lies the debate that doubled the usual length of council sessions last week. Council member Linda Nanko-Yeager opposes the level of debt proposed, and supports a shared street funding formula instead. Nanko-Yeager would like to see 80 percent paid by assessing property owners affected by the streetwork improving their neighborhood. The city would pay 20 percent as a whole. Mayor Eric Peterson, and Council members Roger Elmore and Joe Zerwas last week said it’s because of 40 years of city councils unwilling to make a financing decision; that roads are in such tough shape.
Leaders haven’t wanted to assess and historically they haven’t levied enough either. Wyoming now has millions of dollars of stuff to do. If we don’t borrow (bond), the mayor explained, the city only has enough built into its annual property tax levy to do “one mile” every year. If Wyoming earmarks that same $500,000 annual account, created just in 2012 for street reconstruction, it could use about $300,000 for debt service, and have cash for emergencies. In 10 years the “critical streets would be done,” Peterson added. Then the non-assessment based street projects could move to the west side of the freeway. Also, Peterson said not assessing property owners for streetwork is a “selling tool” for anybody marketing real estate. “Assessments can be crippling (financially)” the mayor explained. If a potential buyer sees a crummy street, the seller can tell them Wyoming has a levy-funded revolving street plan and doesn’t assess. “People will begin to appreciate it,” the mayor said once the plan and shared funding is engrained.
Council member Nanko-Yeager said she envisions this first bond of $4.4 million-- that the council wants to adopt a plan for-- launches the city down an unsustainable path. She argued that the city of Shoreview, which Mayor Peterson likes to point to as a model for this approach, has seen big growth in the debt service levy it has to collect to fund its street care program. But, Wyoming City Administrator Craig Mattson noted Shoreview city tax base has grown and more people live there since the levy was begun in the 1980s. He doubted any one parcel has even noticed a tax hit for the increases. Shoreview’s growth has kept-up the no assessment program, Mattson stated. There were several residents in the council audience supportive of the no-assessment policy and bonding. Many live on neglected city streets. A new resident living in a new development, however, spoke against this approach saying her brand new street was built by a developer and was part of their home purchase price. She stated she probably won’t even be around in 30 years to benefit when her street needs work. Another citizen remarked that he didn’t care for the me-versus-others attitude he was hearing.
He said the streets need repair and this is the best way to get it done. Good thoroughfares benefit everybody, and a nicely maintained street network improves all individual Wyoming property values. Council set a public hearing to go into detail on the road plan and bonding method, for May 7 at 7 p.m. Council member Roger Elmore added that interest rates are at historic lows and by obtaining a large amount of financing for a comprehensive multi-street effort, the city avoids “throwing a whole bag of money away” every time it mobilizes a contractor for a small annual project. In other matters: council heard of discontent with the 2013 park user fees. Barb Hanson, modified pitch (girls ball) team coordinator, said the organization was shocked there’s a fee to use the city sports fields now. The boys use school district facilities and she said they don’t pay.
The girls are going to have to cover $900 in expenses because of the new fee structure, Hanson said. The city adopted fees at a re-scheduled Jan. 9 city council meeting; calling for all day use of fields at $150, or $10 per use for two hours and an additional $5 per use each additional hour over two. There’s aso a fee for non-resident use of pavilion space at $25 for four hours and a $50 refundable deposit. Wyoming residents can use a park shelter at no charge. Also informal “pick-up” games on fields aren’t charged any fee. Hanson was supported by Neil Gatzow as they asked if this summer’s fees could be waived. “I don’t think it’s a good policy,” Gatzow, a former Wyoming Mayor and grandfather of a ball player, declared.
The park board recommended to council to charge fees to organizations “that generate revenue” using city property, explained Elmore, who is council liaison to parks. Elmore said the city has to treat groups equitably, but the girls’ ball program could come to a park board meeting to request fees to be waived. Hanson said the team is “under the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association umbrella” but only for insurance purposes. The FLAAA doesn’t fund anything she does. She said her Wyoming players pay a registration fee but it all “goes back into the program.” Council agreed the fee waiver issue needs to start at the park board level, and advised the parties involved to get on that agenda.