Monthly Archives: March 2015

Our agenda for the evening was very full.  Mayor Adams was absent due to severe illness, and Council member Deshler acted as Mayor Pro tem.  Council members Dahl and Libby were also absent.

Citizen Input Time

The Council has recently put in place a tracking method that ensures timely resolutions of all constituent issues.  We receive updates on all “open” cases, and discuss ways to provide a satisfactory solution.  Our goal is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.  During this Input Time, one resident came to speak about an ongoing issue with the lack of maintenance of a pond located in her neighborhood.  This has been a problem for several years, and the whole neighborhood would like this resolved as soon as possible.  Our city manager agreed to a timeline and a plan that appears satisfactory to the resident.

First Work Session

Representatives from Hennepin County Assessor Department spoke about the process of appealing the estimated market value of a home in Crystal.  Each year, homeowners receive a letter from the County Assessor Department stating the current estimated market value of their home.  If a homeowner disagrees with the estimated value, they can appeal to the County to discuss adjusting the assessment.  Most disputes can be resolved by working directly with the assessor’s office, and some issues are brought before the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization.  The Board meets each year with the specific purpose of ensuring that all local property is correctly assessed, and judge on disputed assessments brought forward by the homeowners.  If the dispute cannot be resolved with the local board, the homeowner can appeal to the County Board, and finally to the Minnesota Tax Court.

The Crystal Board of Appeal and Equalization will meet on April 7, 2015, at 7:00pm. Click here for more information on this meeting.  Click here for more information from Hennepin County on how you can appeal the estimated market value of your home.

Regular Council Meeting

Following the approval of the agenda, we heard the following presentations:

Tech Dump event presented by the Environmental Quality Commission.  Click here for more info.

The 5th Annual “Firefighters Fighting Hunger” Drive presented by Assistant Fire Chief Joel Nelson.  Through the end of March, The West Metro Fire-Rescue District is collecting food and monetary donations to benefit The Food Group.  On Saturday, March 21st from 11:00am-3:00pm, they will be out in many of the local grocery store parking lots collecting donations.  The Crystal City Council will be assisting by bagging groceries at the Cub Foods on Hwy 100 and 36th.  I am very excited for this event!  Click here for more info.

We breezed through the Consent Agenda, heard one resident speak during Open Forum, and moved on to the Regular Agenda with the reading of disbursements over $25,000.

The Council continued by approving contributions of $750 each to NEAR and PRISM food shelves.  NEAR and PRISM food shelves serve hundreds of local families each month, and provide food for school children during the summer.  All monetary donations are matched during the month of March, and I highly encourage our residents to pitch in with this very important service to our community.

The Council considered civil penalties for the illegal sale of tobacco to an underage person by A-1 Liquor.  A-1 Liquor failed an annual compliance check conducted by the Crystal Police Department.  City Code outlines the following civil penalties that the Council may impose against the business owner:

First violation results in a fine of up to $750, and loss of tobacco license for one day.

Second violation within 24 months is a fine of up to $1,500 and a loss of license for up to five days (three days for alcohol)

Third violation within 24 months after the first is a fine of up to $2,000 and a loss of license for up to ten days.

Fourth violation within 36 months after the first is a permanent revocation of license.

The council recently changed the penalties for underage sales of tobacco and alcohol, and this was the first case in about a year.  This Sun Post article explains the history of the revision.

This was the first violation for A-1 Liquor.  The Council received the police report with details on the incident, and the business owner appeared before the council for questioning.  According to the owner, the clerk responsible for failing to properly I.D. the underage customer has dyslexia, and has been sent to receive proper treatment.  The owner was respectful and apologetic, and understood the severity of such an offense.  Following the questioning and a thorough discussion, the council unanimously voted to impose a fine of $750, but forego the license suspension.  I felt that suspending the license on the first offence in this case was too harsh.  The fine, along with the arrest and having to appear before the council, is a punishment that meets the crime.  Much tougher consequences should be reserved for repeat offenders.  I felt that the council treated this matter seriously, and A-1 Liquor fully understood their responsibility in the matter.

Next we considered imposing penalties for a failed alcohol compliance check by Liquor Liquidator.  This was their first alcohol offence, and the penalties are similar.  The owner appeared before the council, and informed us that the business purchased an electronic card reader to ensure that this never happens again.  The council had a more difficult time arriving at a consensus, with Mayor Pro tem Deshler wishing to suspend their liquor license in addition to the $750 fine.  The council finally voted to impose the fine in the full amount, and forego the license suspension, with Julie Deshler voting No.

Both decisions were difficult.  The council had to fairly balance several factors- the health and safety of our community and youth, the needs of small businesses, and imposing proper punishment that will deter repeat offending.  I feel that we were able to strike that balance.

Following this, the Council heard a presentation about Crystal’s Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program.

We approved a resolution ordering hearing on proposed assessment in Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction.

We approved the 2015 Alley Reconstruction Feasibility Study.

We approved expenditure for the new Bassett Creek Playground.  This project is funded mostly through Grant money, and will be a wonderful addition to our community.

We approved several expenditures for the new Public Works facility.  Many of the purchases are coming in below budget, and we are happy to see the savings.

The council was presented with a Cooperative Agreement with Hennepin County on the purchase of the land necessary for CP-BNSF freight connector track.  This article provides some background information.  Hennepin County wants Crystal to cooperate in this process.  We felt that the language in the document needed clarification, and more discussion was necessary before approval.  Our city attorney agreed to work with the County to obtain better verbiage.  The council voted to continue the discussion during our work session on Thursday, March 19th.  The council received the revised document on Thursday, and we voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

The final item on the agenda was approving the second reading of the city code amendment relating to council rules.

EDA

We approved the sale of three residential plots to developers. We were happy to see a new company expand their operations into Crystal.

Second Work Session

The Crystal Police Department presented their annual report.  You can read it here.

City Manger Anne Norris provided an update on unresolved constituent issues.

That’s all for Tuesday, March 17th!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like clarification, or to discuss any issues.  You can listen to the Work Sessions here, and watch the Regular Council Meeting here.

Our meeting kicked off at 6:30 with a short work session to discuss contributions to food shelves from charitable donations, and the distribution of charitable gambling funds.  Ten percent of charitable gambling profits must be contributed to local charities, and we decided to continue to award this money to NEAR and Prism food shelves.

The council convened the regular council meeting at 7:00pm.  Immediately following the roll call, we approved the agenda, meeting minutes from the previous sessions, and the consent agenda.  This is a fairly quick process, and we moved on to the Open Forum. One resident approached to speak about the proposed rail connection project, with comments and suggestions on rail safety issues.  Brief note about the Open Forum: The council welcomes residents during this time to speak about any issues important to them.  A person has three minutes to speak, and no topic may be addressed for more than ten minutes.  We hope that more residents take this opportunity to bring their opinions and concerns to the council.  For a more informal time with the council, consider attending our Citizen Input Time.

On to the Regular Agenda:

Mayor Adams read through disbursements over $25,000.  These payments are on file, and are available to the public for review.  Previously, all disbursements were part of the consent agenda, and for the sake of financial transparency and responsibility the council moved larger expenditures to the regular agenda.   We are able to discuss these items in depth, and move to approve, deny, or table them for further conversation.

At this time the council considered the second reading of a zoning ordinance amendment allowing impound lots with a conditional use permit, and a zoning ordinance amendment regarding businesses dealing with secondhand goods.   For more information on these you may read Council Member Kolb’s previous recap here.

The council approved a financing plan for the new Public Works facility (finally)!  This has been under consideration for over a year, with much discussion and debate.  The council had three financing options: Bonding, part bonding and part cash, and all cash.  Recently, our Financial Director provided the council with numbers detailing all three options.  The numbers were clear- if the city bonds any portion of the Public Works expense there will be a tax increase for our residents.  Any conversation about bonding was a conversation about how much of a tax increase is acceptable.  My answer was No Tax Increase, especially after seeing that cash was actually a smart and reasonable financing option.  Avoiding bonding was the original plan when this project was proposed, and I was pleased to see the numbers demonstrating why.  The estimated cost is $13,500,000, with the Major Building Replacement Fund contributing the majority of the funds.  We were left with a deficiency of a little over one million, and were able to cover that with an Internal Fund Loan, which is basically a "pencilled-in" transfer of money within the city's general account.  A city's budget is much like a family budget- one bank account, but several smaller funds, so transfering from one to another is a simple book-keeping task. The Economic Development Authority also contributed $650,000.  The city will build back its funds through the current tax levy, and I anticipate that this can be done in under three years.  Past discussions revolved around the fear that the city cannot sustain this expense, however, the information provided by our Financial Director shows that our budget is entirely capable of handling this project.  Cash financing keeps Crystal fiscally secure, avoids finance charges and increased taxes.  I am happy to say that the council voted 6-1 in favor of cash, with Council Member Libby voting nay in favor of bonding.

The last item on the Regular Agenda was adopting new council rules.  Council members Jeff Kolb and Casey Peak worked together with our city attorney and staff to create a revised version of the rules, and proposed it to the council for approval.  Some of the goals they maintained are: to clarify processes and expectations, and decrease conflict; to protect the rights of both the minority and majority; to put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council; and to balance formality with flexibility.  The council rules were unanimously approved, and will be publicly available at every council meeting.  It is important to have a clearly defined set of expectations, and I am grateful to Council Members Kolb and Peak for completing this important project.

An EDA session immediately followed the Regular Council meeting, and we voted to authorize the sale of a lot to a developer for a construction of a new house.  Fairly quick and easy!

During the following Work Session we discussed the process of appointing residents volunteering for advisory commissions.  We are beginning the interview process for the Blue Line LRT Committees, and need to decide on a process that is fair and easy to implement.  This process will also be used when we are interviewing residents for our city commissions.  After a lengthy discussion it was decided that each applicant will be interviewed individually, with the entire council present; ranked by each council member; and a decision will be made based on the overall score.  This conversation is part of a bigger discussion on Crystal’s citizen commissions- What commissions function well, and why?  What goals do we set for our commissions?  Do we have the right ones in place?  We are making progress by deciding on the interview process right now, and will continue to discuss how to improve our commissions in the future.

That’s all for Tuesday, March 3rd!  You can watch the council meeting here, and listen to the work session here.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns!

Reminder: Please consider attending Crystal's Freight Rail Open House tomorrow, Saturday, March 7th.  Click here for details!

Congressman Keith Ellison is having his own Rail Safety Open House on Wednesday, March 11th, from 6:30-8:00pm at the Crystal Community Center.