Excelsior Fights Back!

July 17, 2011 at 9:34 am Leave a comment


From the Sun Post;

Excelsior residents to vote on city’s spending limitations

BY CHRIS DILLMANN • SUN NEWSPAPERS

Excelsior residents may have a say about how much their property taxes rise each year.

An attempt is being made to put the idea to voters in the form of an amendment to the city’s charter.  A petition was served to Charter Commission Chair Lloyd Bratland July 11 by Mark Bowers, petition organizer, who has spearheaded the effort.

“That’s been kind of the focus for me to get a petition and initiative of the petition that closes the check book and limits residents fiscal financial liabilities with an eye towards creating a financial framework that provides residents to have oversight on spending of our city council,” Bowers said. “This is a fairly harsh economic downturn we’re in the middle of, and you need to limit the taxpayer obligations in these conditions.”

In October 2010, Bowers had circulated a petition of similar nature but was one signature short of the required names to move to a vote.  The Charter Commission then began working on benchmarking three other cities with similar charter spending limits.

“There was a good thing that came out of all of this, which was I had the opportunity to be involved and see other city charters like Fridley, Lino Lakes and Mounds View and how they work creating financial framework that would provide for resident fiscal oversight,” Bowers said. “The more I looked at it, the more I started to realize there are some things here that will help limit the amount of obligation the tax payers in this town are required to pay for.”

The latest petition, which was scheduled to be submitted to the city council July 18, required 5 percent of the 2010 General Election turnout or 48 signatures. It received 53.  By state statute, the charter commission is required to submit the petition to the city council. The city clerk will verify all the signatures are valid after the council receives the petition. Then, a special election must be held within 90 days.

Bowers says it’s time for the people to decide how the city spends taxpayer money.  “Let the people decide,” he said. “If they support the petition and it passes then that goes into the charter, that’s the framework by which this current sitting city council and future city councils will need to operate.”

The petition has four points – Tax Levy and Fees, Spending and Budgets, Bonding and Assessments and Emergency Situations.  Bonding and assessments would need approval from voters at a general or special election.  “If you’re going to spend our money we want to vote one way or another for it,” Bowers said. “The beauty of this is it always goes to the people, the people’s voice needs to be heard. And if they support it the process went where it should go, if they don’t you can’t bond or assess us for that.”  Bowers also says it adds a better line of communication between the council and residents.

“One of the things about the bonding and assessments, which I see as a positive, is it means the city council or any city council, should this get approved by the voters, is going to have to be more communicative and transparent and outline the unique selling proposition as to why we need to do any given assessment or bonding situation because what happens if they don’t do those things they might not get the majority vote,” Bowers said.

The charter commission also voted at the July 14 meeting to continue the research on the planning and reporting of the city’s finances. After Bower’s first petition, the commission broke its work into two parts and dedicated 100 percent of its time to the question, says Bratland.  Whatever happens to the petition, Charter Commissioner Bob Bolles says it’s important to continue to make sure the group continues what it started.

“I am supportive of our commission moving forward with our study on potentially amending the charter because I think government needs stability,” Bolles said. “I hope we are not part of some dysfunctional instability of government as we move forwards on this.  “If we can continue to study this thing, and do our due diligence maybe it would somewhat calm the people within the community that feel that this government is broken because I don’t think our government is broken.”

Bowers says it’s the level of distrust he also hopes to fix.  “There’s been an erosion of resident trust of its own sitting city council, and that shouldn’t be the case,” he said. “We’re all in the same community, we shouldn’t be at loggerheads with each other, and we should be hand-in-hand with each other.”

However, there is disagreement about the city’s financial shape.  “Our city is in really good financial shape,” said city council and charter commission member Mary Jo Fulkerson said. “It’s futile if people would just get the information and look at it.”

Fulkerson moved to cancel the remainder of the scheduled charter commission meetings because she says the new petition negates the prior work.  “I just don’t understand this,” she said. “The charter commission has been working for almost a year to appease the petitioner, and he obviously doesn’t understand the process the charter city has to go through to amend a charter.”

Special elections come with a price tag.  “That in itself is going to cost a lot of money to have a special election in October, and the staff to be bothered with that costing the taxpayer more money … it’s very irritating the petitioner jumped in after the work we put in.”

Bowers says it’s a small price to pay.  “Over the long-haul, albeit that’s the cost of doing business and an investment that we need to make to build that financial framework to provide for resident fiscal oversight of our city council,” Bowers said. “And I know it’s right.”

The petition:

Tax Levy and Fees: The amount of tax levied annually against real estate and personal property within the City of Excelsior, as well as fees charged for city services, shall not exceed an amount greater than the prior year’s tax levy increased by the sum of an inflationary index plus 2%, not to exceed a maximum total of 5%, whichever is less. The Inflationary Index to be used shall be the most recent annual CPI-U value reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers in the Minneapolis, St. Paul metropolitan area.

Spending and Budgets: All City of Excelsior annual budgets shall limit total expenditures to a level not to exceed the CPI-U cited above. Budgets shall not be greater than the sum total of all estimated income and revenues. The City Council shall not authorize any payments or the incurring obligation by the City, unless said appropriation has already been made in the current budget resolution.  Bonding and Assessments: No Bonds may be sold or Assessments imposed on real estate on personal property without the approval of the majority of the voters voting on the question at a general or special election.

Emergency Situations: City Of Excelsior expenditures may only be exceeded in emergency situations, such as natural disasters, calamity, or other public emergencies. Emergency situations shall be funded through the insurance of emergency debt certificates to run not longer than three (3) years. An ordinance authorizing the issuance of such emergency debt certificates shall state the nature of the emergency and be approved by a unanimous vote of the sitting City Council.

Wow!  The citizens actually may have a say in how much they get taxed?  Of curse, the city doesn’t like which means it’s a good thing!  Maybe we should do this here!!!  Can anyone imagine ReNae Bowman’s reaction?

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Entry filed under: Referendum, Taxation.

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