Tag Archives: Property Taxes

Budget and Parks

Our 2018 Budget focus has been long term planning, and eliminating special assessments and debt. The Parks Master Plan was a big topic of discussion.

We started the Parks Master Plan because we had no clear direction, and no understanding of how much it costs to improve our parks, or even to maintain them. Now we have a clear picture of the costs. Maintenance is our first financial hurdle. Previously, the entire parks department received about $100K for improvements per year- replacement of aged equipment, fences, benches, roofs, etc. The process of thorough inventory revealed that maintenance actually costs over 300K/year. Over the years, our parks have been treading water at best, and will be falling into full decline if we do not provide adequate funds. During our recent budget talks, we have committed to provide at least this funding. The Master Plan outlines our entire wish list for improvements and development, but we are not bound to execute every detail. We can amend as financing dictated. Some ideas are grants, private/public partnership with business and civil groups, and selling unused park space. We will be discussing all the options in the near future. The Parks Department leadership is qualified and motivated to tackle this challenge, and the council is committed to investing in our public assets. 

Check out the latest on the Parks Master Plan here.

On Septermber 5, the Council voted on the preliminary levy, and we have agreed on no more than 6% increase.

This includes:

Adjustments in wages and insurance

Potential addition of another parks maintenance employee, or more capital Parks funding, or leave this off entirely, brining the levy lower.

Police (body cams, two additional officers)

Parks and capital maintenance

It is important to note that Crystal is dramatically different from other cities: we are eliminating hidden fees, debt service payments, and assessments. We want to be transparent and upfront- what you see is what you get on your tax bill. Your tax bill from Crystal is full disclosure. At this time, the budget cannot increase by more than 6%, but can only decrease. The maximum increase amounts to approximately $40 per capita. The amount you pay depends on your property values. Property values have seen a dramatic recovery, especially in our part of town, so residential tax load is increasing. Despite this, the amount you pay can actually go down or remain unchanged. Chances are, however, if you live in the north half of town, you will see an increase.   

We are offering an opportunity for public comment on October 3, and also on December 5th, during which time we will have another presentation, and a final vote on the budget.

You can watch the tax presentation here. Click on agenda item 5.2 to jump ahead. Click here for the meeting calendar if you'd like to attend a meeting. As always, please contact me with your input!

Quiet Zone

We are really getting a rail road crossing quiet zone! Construction begins in October, and the trains will sound their last horn sometime at the end of November. Great news for the Holidays, and the overall quality of life in Section 2. Update here.

Bass Lake Road and Hwy 81

We recently acquired a four-plex apartment building near the Bass Lake Road and Hwy 81 intersection. This property was notorious for its unkempt appearance and high crime rate, and was a nuisance to the neighborhood. On October 3rd, we will decide to either tear it down and offer the lot for a single family home construction, or make slight improvements to the parking configuration and put it back on the market. Demolishing the property will make the corner more favorable for a construction of three single family homes, while preserving the building will allow the market to dictate its future, leaving room for one single family home. Area residents greatly favor demolishing the property. Their consensus is that it will cut back crime, beautify the area, and prepare the way for positive development once light rail comes through. The private market can do all these things as well, but having the city take charge appears to guarantee a positive outcome. The price tag is hefty- well over $400,000. This money comes from the Economic Development levy, and we would possibly recoup some of the costs from the sale of the lots. Check out the EDA Work Session packet here, jump to page 130 to see the details. I'm currently taking phone calls and emails from residents with their opinions on the project.

Public Works

Flashing yellow arrows are being installed at Bass Lake Road and West Broadway; 57th Ave and Broadway; Bass Lake Road and Sherborne Ave; West Broadway and 55th Ave. Flashing yellow arrows are surprisingly expensive, requiring a whole hardware update. Hennepin County and city of Crystal are splitting the cost on this set. Thanks to Public Works for making this a priority!

On a different note, we ask you not to flush "flushable" wipes.  We approved a city code regulation "banning" the flushing of wipes. This really is an impossible code to enforce, but it communicates the dangers of these wipes to our infrastructure. Public Works employees actually have to pull them out from the sewer by hand, as they do not disintegrate like toilet paper. Here is a short video from Consumer Reports demonstrating the issue.

Congratulations to Mark Ray for receiving the American Public Works Association 2017 Myron Calkins Young Leader of the Year Award! Residents have reported high levels of satisfaction with Public Works since Mark took the reigns. He is considerate, professional, and deeply committed. We are so lucky to have you in Crystal, Mark. Learn about the award here.

Bass Lake Road Street Scape

Update here.

Crystal Resident Survey

It's still going on!  Give us your feedback here

Openings on Commissions

We are looking for volunteers! Commissions serve the Council and Community by providing information and guidance on various issues. Please check here for details.

In the Community

Diaper Drive

 

 

 

 

 

Run for Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

Coat Drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waffle Breakfast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Order your Crystal flag here.We also have buttons and decals available for low cost. You can pick them up at City Hall. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's all for now!  Thanks for reading!

m-robin-snow

Happy Holidays everyone! It's a great time of the year, especially now that the election season is over. We are eager to get to work with the newly elected council members. Click here to see the local results. While the post election transition can be a challenge, we are committed to keeping a sharp focus on keeping Crystal strong, vibrant, and inclusive. Here are some of the issues we've been working on:

2017 Proposed Budget

Click here for the 2017 Budget Presentation, and here for a more detailed layout.  A comprehensive presentation will take place during the December 6th Truth in Taxation meeting.  The meeting will be at 7:00 pm at City Hall.

Due to the complicated tax distribution formula, your property taxes may or may not go up this year. In many cases, your bill could actually be less! Generally, if your property value has increased, the amount of taxes you pay also increases, although that is not always the case. The residents in Section 2 will most likely see an increase due to the rapidly rising property values. During the housing market crash, this area devalued the most, and in recent years has recovered the most value. This is very good news, but it causes the homeowners to shoulder more of the tax burden. Despite the proposed increase in the levy, Crystal has the lowest per capita tax load among the surrounding cities. We have also cut taxes in other areas by working to reduce Crystal's debt, ending special assessments, and avoiding franchise fees. I am, however, aware of the fact that we must curb the upward trajectory of the tax levy itself. This is a priority, and we must plan now.  The council will meet to discuss long-term cost-containment before the end of the year.

The Truth in Taxation hearing is on Tuesday, December 6th, 7:00 pm, at City Hall.  Please contact me in advance with any concerns, questions, or suggestions.  I will post the presentation here once it is up on the city's website.

Parks Planning

Our parks are the backbone of what makes our community safe and strong.  We need to have a plan in order to provide a thriving, exciting, and pleasant parks environment, while keeping costs down. The Council has decided to create a master plan for all our parks, and a separate plan for Becker Park. Becker Park is unique due to the proximity of the planned LRT station, and needs an update to make it more usable and safe.  Community engagement is essential for this to succeed, and we will invite public input and participation during this process. The final master plan will empower us with a strategic method to approach all future park needs.  We will have a repair and replacement schedule for infrastructure, be able to pinpoint areas for improvement, expansion, or replacement, and identify grant opportunities for new amenities. Having this plan will also enable our parks staff and commission volunteers to focus on providing quality service and creative recreation opportunities for our community! For more detailed information click here, (pages 45-104).

Phase 15 and 16 Street Reconstruction

Phase 15 reconstruction of the Twin Oaks neighborhood is finished, with only minor details left to complete.  Rain gardens will be installed in the Spring of 2017, along with tree replacement, paving of the final layer of blacktop, and other final adjustments. See this newsletter for more information.

Phase 16 is in the early planning stages. The Council approved a resolution directing city staff to advertise for construction bids in the beginning of 2017. See this memo with the latest information. The next neighborhood meeting will take place mid-January, and will gather input on the proposed construction plans.

Freight Rail Quiet Zones

If all goes according to plan, the Quiet Zones on Douglas Drive and Broadway Ave will be in effect Fall of 2017!  Residents overwhelmingly support this project, and I'm incredibly pleased to see it come together. Visit this page for more details.

Light Rail

We recently had a public open house to discuss station design.  LRT staff presented us with a potential design for the station, and explained its various elements.   All LRT stations are formulaic, but certain variations are allowed to reflect the surrounding community.  The proposed composition for Bass Lake Road takes into account Becker Park and the Crystal Airport, with the roof of the station appearing to be a green airplane wing.  At this point, these design elements are only ideas, and require input from the residents and city council.  In addition, we are discussing the location of the Traction Power Sub-Station (TPSS). The TPSS is basically a very large box that makes the train run.  Visual screening for residents on Elmhurst and Hampshire Aves is also under consideration. For more detailed information see this council packet (page 124), and this work session packet (page 36-100).  You can listen to our discussion here (starts appx. 43 minutes in), and here (starts appx. 110 minutes in).

In Other News

Council Member Jeff Kolb keeps a regular blog, and has recently covered issues such as what residents can do regarding cars speeding on neighborhood streets, and the future of Crystal airport.  Read his entires here.

Community Events

Check out our Parks and Rec brochure!  Their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages are all active, and provide regular information on what's happening.

Winterfest is coming up on Saturday, December 3rd.

winterfest-slide

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Light of Crystal recently adorned the Community Center trees with Holiday lights! Thanks to them, residents can take joy in a beautiful display of blue sparkling lights on Douglas Drive.  We are so grateful!  Take a look at this cool video.  The Light of Crystal hosts Half Way Happy Hour every month, please join their Facebook page to learn when and where.

That's all for now!  Please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.  I am always happy to hear from you.

In September, we've had the Public Works Grand Opening, voting on the preliminary Levy, Run for Rocco, and Council members bagging groceries at Cub, among many other things.  I'll provide an update on the biggest issues currently at play.

2016 Budget

On September 1st, the council voted to set the preliminary Levy at a 3% increase. This means that the increase cannot exceed 3% when we vote on the final Levy in December.  Please see my last post for background. The EDA Levy was also increased by 3%. The EDA is a separate entity, and has its own budget and Levy.   As I’ve stated before, I would like to continue working with staff to find ways of lowering this number for the final December vote.  Council Member Kolb talks about the Budget process in his council recap here.

METRO Blue Line Extension

LRT 1The plans for the Blue Line Light Rail are progressing. On Monday, September 28th, community members met to identify strengths and weaknesses of the area immediately surrounding the proposed LRT station. The meeting was very well attended, and residents provided thoughtful and insightful input. For many years, The LRT LRT 2project has been planned and managed by groups outside of our community, but the people who really matter are Crystal residents. We know and love Crystal, and our opinions are essential to any plans that these groups may have. The Federal Transit Administration, Hennepin County, Met Council, the Counties Transit Improvement LRT 3Board, and MNDot are all very powerful entities, and our own community may seem lost in the shuffle. It’s essential that we are present to advocate on behalf of our city. There is also a myriad of committees- Mayor Adams and I are members of the Corridor Management Committee and the Steering Committee. We also have the Crystal Community and Business Advisory Committees, and the Community Working Group. The CWG is focused on managing the plans for the area immediately surrounding the proposed station, and is made up of residents, council members (Julie Deshler and myself), and city staff. All these committees are active for the purpose of bringing the community's interests to the table. Here is a link to all the committees involved, and the dates on which they meet: METRO Blue Line Committees.

One specific LRT issue that the Council recently resolved is the West Broadway “S Curve” intersection at 48th Avenue. This intersection will not be functional as is if Light Rail is built, and we had to negotiate with the County to find an appropriate solution.  We did not want the burden of remediation alone, as the County suggested, but we did arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. You can see the proposed layout here. Hennepin County is responsible for construction, and will continue to maintain West Broadway as a County road.

Future Meetings and Opportunities to participate:

Please give your feedback on the LRT station by filling out this survey. In the Seach window at the top left corner type "Crystal", and you will be directed to the appropriate section.

The next community Open House will be on Monday, October 19, 5:00–7:30 p.m. at the Crystal Community Center. This meeting will provide information on the results of the Environmental Analysis. Click here for more details.

Train Horns

Many residents in Section 2 have expressed a desire for creating Quiet Zones at train intersections, specifically at Douglas Drive. City Staff are currently researching the details of this project. The Federal Government regulates all laws pertaining to freight rail, but the financial burden of establishing Quiet Zones falls directly on local communities.  Here is some basic information on what is involved in this process.  This is a lengthy and expensive project, and often times, cities may receive County or State funds to make it possible. You can contact our County Commissioner Mike Opat, and State Representatives Lyndon Carlson and Ann Rest, and let them know that this is important for your quality of life as a Crystal resident.

Click Here to contact Commissioner Opat

Click Here to contact Representative Carlson

Click Here to contact Representative Rest

Twin Oaks Reconstruction

Sidewalk Door KnockingOn October 1st, the City held an informational meeting for those in the Twin Oaks Neighborhood. Earlier, Julie Deshler and I door knocked on Wilshire Ave to inform residents that a sidewalk was proposed for their street. During the open house, residents were polled on their preference regarding the sidewalk. The jury on it is still out, so there is plenty of time for residents to weigh in. Please don't hesitate to contact me with your opinion on this issue.

A Public Hearing will take place on Tuesday, October 6th, 7:00pm, at City Hall.  This is another opportunity for residents to give their input on this project.

Commissions

The Council recently came to a consensus on how to improve the function of our Commissions. This conversation spanned the entire summer, and I am confident that we have reached a good conclusion. Here are the changes that we hope to implement:

  1. Move to annual recruitment and interview process for commissions.
  2. The whole Council interviews candidates.
  3. We will be working with the City Code Review Task Force to move Commissions from the Code to Resolutions.
  4. Implement annual orientation for Commissioners.
  5. Formalize expectations of Commissions, with a work plan and annual reporting- There will be a whole work session on this soon.
  6. Require biennial review of Commissions.
  7. Increase City Staff presence during Commission meetings.

I feel that these changes will put Commissions on the forefront of Council priorities, improve communication and our ability to work more cohesively.

City Code Review Task Force

I recently attended a City Code Review Task Force meeting. The caliber of work was impressive, and I am looking forward to discussing their ideas with the whole Council!  I am pleased to see diversity of background and opinion in this group, and feel confident that their proposals are made with careful deliberation. Simplifying the City Code is one of our top priorities, and we cannot do this without the work of our volunteers. Thank you to all who have stepped up to this challenging task!

Traffic Symposium

Council Member Kolb wrote a recap of this event.  You can read it here.

Community Events

Here is what's coming up in Crystal!

Crystal Shopping Center’s Halloween Event

ShoppingCenterHalloween2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click Here for the Facebook Event Page

Fourth Annual Herzing from the Heart- Healthy Halloween Fun

HerzingHealthyHalloweenFun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light of Crystal Half Way Happy Hour

Thursday October 15th at El Loro, 5:00pm.

Are you interested in getting to know your Crystal neighbors?   You are invited to this casual and fun social gathering!

Click Here for the Facebook Event Page.

That's all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns!

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.