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.
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.