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07/17/2008: Ron Case, Eden Prairie: Former Mayor candidate complains, Bigfoot answers! 11/08/2007: Roger Luoma, Eden Prairie: Property Tax increases are not painless 08/29/2007: Robert Becker, Eden Prairie: Human services is not the job of government
02/21/2008: Al Krause, Eden Prairie: Thank you -- Phil and Brad and Jon -- for cutting spending. 11/01/2007: Laurie Blake, Star Tribune: Eden Prairie wants to give taxpayers a break 08/23/2007: Jon Duckstad, Eden Prairie City Council: Time to give the EP Budget a BRAKE
12/06/2007: Brad Aho, Eden Prairie City Council: Defend city budget decisions 11/01/2007: Phil Young, Eden Prairie Mayor: Taking steps to control budget growth  
11/15/2007: Karen Kirchoff, Eden Prairie: Thank you Phil and Brad and Jon 09/13/2007: Paul Gallenberger, Eden Prairie: Ten percernt budget increase is too high  
CHART: How does Eden Prairie social services spending compare to peer cities? 09/13/2007: Tom Briant, Eden Prairie: EP Budget set to double in eight years See older articles from 2006

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News Letters to the Editor 07/17/2008:

A Sad Day For Eden Prairie
By Ron Case, Eden Prairie

The proposed siting of storm water drainage ponds on the former Sjostrand property illustrates the confusing state of affairs in local Eden Prairie government today. First, let me be clear about something. During my last few months on the City Council back in ’06, the preliminary approved Pioneer Trail Road expansion layout placed the drainage ponds to the west of the Sjostrand property on city park land. So, the proposal to initiate a quick-take, condemnation process to grab the Sjostrand land, demolish his buildings and construct ponds was made in the early days of 2007 by the new City Council.
What is frustratingly obvious is that we, the people of Eden Prairie, had tax revenue coming off that property. We had an owner who was painstakingly caring for the buildings. We had a piece of Eden Prairie history, arguably one of the finest vintage barns in the western suburbs, being preserved in private hands. Now the council is scrambling to defend why the environmental review never identified the barn as a possible National Historic Register site, why the plans changed to move the ponds off public land and onto private property, and why other less intrusive storm water collection concepts were never considered (such as rain water gardens).
Whatever happens now will not replace the tax generating, privately funded preservation we had. Either the barn will be torn down and we the public will get ponds in its place or the barn will survive and we the public will pay for its continued upkeep. (The barn would make an incredible venue for community theatre, concerts and public recreational opportunities.) But to have acquired this property over the objections of its owner and as a consequence to lose one of Eden Prairie’s last hobby farms for some ponds that could have gone about anywhere is truly a sad day for Eden Prairie.

The following comment was submitted by "bigfoot" on the online version of the letters to the editor section on the Eden Prairie News:

Mr Ron Case: Isn't this your second rant in three weeks that includes "When I was on the city council ... blah, blah, blah." I'd like to point out that "was" is the operative word because the voters decided to remove you. There were no hanging chads involved, it was simply the will of the people.

I understand your need to still feel wanted and a part of city hall. Maybe the current council would let you still serve in some capacity. You could greet those attending council meetings, or provide refreshments. We could have a special name for you, "Helper Ron", "Rad-cool Ron", "Ron the Gopher" . . . just some ideas, it would be a hit with the kids.

Regarding the Sjostrand property: I read the Star Tribune story on that this week and nothing they report supports your version of what has taken place. Specifically they didn't credit you for doing "blah, blah, blah." They didn't even mention your name -- you're old news.

Going back to your rant about airport expansion, I think you've contradicted yourself with wanting to save an old barn that is directly across the street from an airport that you claim produces noise pollution, water pollution, and airport. You threw in "carcinogenic" as well for dramatic effect - but I don't think noise can cause cancer, even in laboratory mice.

What would happen if this "historic" barn was no longer used for commercial purposes (i.e storing boats and RVs) and instead was used to house horsies, cows, and chickens. If saved as a historical property this likely could be the case. Do you want to be responsible for horsies that are forced to endure all that noise or inhale toxic fumes?

You also complain that the city took the Sjostrand property off the tax rolls. When I think farms or barns being removed from the tax base, I think of you, Mr. "Take of it off the Tax Roll Ron", I think of you.

By all means Ron, keep the letters coming in. Each and every one is a further validation of the 2006 election results.

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News Letters to the Editor 02/21/2008:

Thanks For Curbing Spending
By Al Krause, Eden Prairie

I have been waiting and waiting for someone to write in to thank the mayor and City Council for finally having the courage and fortitude to look into how we can begin to control the city budget. For whatever reason, that doesn’t seem to be happening. It took Michael Boland’s “cute” letter of half-truths and sophomoric word play (Feb. 7 Eden Prairie News) to motivate me to do it myself.

First of all, the only cut in the budget that I am aware of is the elimination of a half-time employee in a department that duplicates services that Hennepin County is already providing. If he feels his roads and bike trails are being neglected, it isn’t because of cuts in the budget for that department. And since when is looking at an area of service to see if there might be a better way of handling it, “threatening to close it down.” Last time I checked, the Senior Center is doing quite nicely in its present facilities. I volunteer for Meals on Wheels and to my knowledge no city funding has been cut from the program. How many “historical sites” does Mr. Boland feel the city should invest in? From the information I have received, we already far exceed the amount of money spent in that area for cities of our size. And lastly, it is ludicrous to think the city should be able to run a Community Center that has doubled in size with the same staff.

I don’t know Mr. Boland’s situation but, using his figures, an $11 increase in taxes when compared to his admitted $35 average increase over the last three years adds up to a $24 savings in his city tax bill and I think he should be thanking “Phil” and the City Council instead of belittling their efforts to rein in city spending wherever they can. This is the first time in the 31 years I have lived in Eden Prairie that I can recall the City Council putting forth an effort to hold down city spending and I say, “Thank you!” for taking that first step in what I hope will be a long journey to curb city spending.
Al Krause is an Eden Prairie resident

  The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News Letters to the Editor 12/06/2007:

Defends City Budget Decisions
By Brad Aho, Eden Prairie City Council

Eden Prairie is well managed and financially sound (Moody’s AAA rated); our city is ranked among the top 10 in the nation. We are blessed with excellent public and private schools, beautiful parks, a Community Center, wonderful churches, homes, volunteer organizations, recreational opportunities, shopping, restaurants and our greatest asset — our wonderful residents. Local government plays an important role in the quality of life and delivers essential services such as public safety, public works, parks and planning. However, local governments should supply only those services that the private sector or other governmental agencies cannot and do not provide effectively.

The City Council has the difficult and important responsibility of determining the budget and setting the tax levy. There are different philosophies on what services a city should provide and where our responsibilities lie. This year, the city had its first Budget Advisory Commission, made up of residents from diverse backgrounds and experiences that provided fresh insight for operational and budget improvements. In addition, council members received direct input from residents. All the ideas were analyzed and some will be implemented while others will not be used at this time. As a result, we have made important improvements in the budget process that will bear fruit for years to come.

Budget policy must be based on sound decision-making principles and processes. In this phase of the city’s growth cycle, our land is about 98 percent developed; we have approximately 65,000 residents and we expect to max out at about 72,000 by 2020. This means that the fast-paced growth of the past is slowing. It is critical that the budget have some correlation to the growth of our city, or local government will begin to place a disproportionate burden on its residents and businesses.

Ultimately, the council will make the tough budget decisions; it is likely that the budget will increase over last year and will not be cut, but the proposed increase will be appropriately reduced. While it is easy to justify spending by saying a particular item will cost the average household “only” X dollars per year, that vision is short-sighted. Reagan was correct when he quipped that no government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size, and that a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on earth. The truth is that as each item increases the budget, it can become overly burdensome. If a total budget grows by “only” a modest 7 percent per year, it will double in just 10 years. My vision for this community is long-term, and the important budget improvements by this council have been made with a scalpel, not a chainsaw.

I believe that it is my responsibility as your council member to ensure that the city provides all essential services efficiently and cost effectively. Our current staff is well qualified and does a fantastic job of providing top-notch services. We are not in a budget crisis now and we need to spend our residents’ money wisely while planning for the future to prevent one. We must be good stewards of all of the resources that the public entrusts us to manage, including buildings, vehicles, equipment, land and parks. We have strong plans in place and will work to maintain all our resources through careful planning and execution.

Keeping the quality of life high and maintaining the services that residents expect do not necessarily require more spending. I will continue to work diligently with Mayor Young, other council members and our citizens for innovative ways to keep city spending as low as possible while maintaining essential services without jeopardizing our resources or quality of life.

Brad Aho has been an Eden Prairie Councilmember since 2005. He is currently running for his second term.

For a lively commentary on this letter, see the Eden Prairie News Comments Section

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News Letters to the Editor 11/15/2007:

Budget Position Reasonable
By Karen Kirchoff, Eden Prairie

I think the majority of residents prefer the reasonable position set forth by Mayor [Phil] Young and other council members, which is centered on the proper role of city government. We are fortunate to have leaders who are willing to make tough budgeting choices that both manage property tax increases and keep government focused on its proper role. We do not want government to do everything, but we do want government to perform its limited role very well.

Thanks to Mayor Young, Councilmember [Brad] Aho and Councilmember [Jon] Duckstad for having the courage to set budgeting priorities that the majority can support.

The following data was gathered from various sources:

Amount spent on social services (2007)
1 Eden Prairie $190,000
2 Edina


3 Maple Grove $120,000
4 Minnetonka $65,000
5 Apple Valley $0
6 Eagan $0
7 Lakeville $0
8 Maplewood $0
9 Mound $0
10 Woodbury $0

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News Letters to the Editor 11/08/2007:

Tax Increases Are Not Painless
By Roger Luoma, Eden Prairie

What will really happen if Eden Prairie’s council refuses to hold the line on city spending? Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone knows the answer: If the trend isn’t turned around, property taxes will continue to climb at a pace that greatly exceeds that of our incomes.

These property tax increases are not painless. Residents relying on fixed incomes could be priced out their homes, and tenants will see their rents rise as landlords pass on the extra costs. As Eden Prairie’s already-high tax rates keep climbing, the city becomes less attractive to new home buyers and builders when compared to neighboring cities with lower rates.

Tax hikes have real consequences. In carefully handling the pressures they feel in the long budget debate and in trying to make good decisions, members of our City Council need to stay focused on the big picture.

The following is reprinted from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune 11/01/2007:

Eden Prairie wants to give taxpayers a break
Eden Prairie wants to hold the line on taxes by trimming some spending. Among ideas: Cut the Somali immigrant liaison position.
By Laurie Blake, Star Tribune

To cushion Eden Prairie property taxpayers against the extra $1 million it will cost to operate the expanded community center next year, city council members plan to collect less money for capital improvements for at least the next two years.

In continuing discussions about the city's 2008-09 budget, which must be finalized by December, four council members said Tuesday that they will vote to collect between $250,000 and $500,000 less for capital improvements in 2008 and 2009 while the city adjusts to the higher community center costs. The exact amount of the reduction was not settled.

Mayor Phil Young said a temporary drop in the city's annual $1 million capital improvement levy is in order, especially because the city will soon receive $3.5 million from the sale of land at Hwy. 212 and Prairie Center Drive to Presbyterian Homes for a new senior housing complex. "I think it's appropriate to give the taxpayers a little break," Young said.

The council is considering spending roughly $41 million next year, up 4.8 percent, or about $1.9 million, from 2007. The owner of a $374,800 median-priced Eden Prairie home would pay $1,082 in city property taxes next year -- up $9 from 2007.

Young and council members Brad Aho and Jon Duckstad have been studying the budget for ways to reduce spending.

All three of them ran for office as tax-conscious candidates with Republican Party endorsement.

Eden Prairie is a high-tax city, Young said. "On a per-capita basis we still lead our peers in taxation. And I would like to change that. If we can make gradual progress toward that, I would be happy."

Young said he would like to replace the car allowance for city employees with mileage reimbursement and reduce the city's heritage preservation position to half time.

He, Aho and Duckstad also plan to use their majority position on the five-member council to eliminate the city's Somali immigrant liaison position. They have said it is not a service a city should provide.

Aho and Duckstad also favored city staff salary increases below those given in most neighboring suburbs. "I don't think we have to be at the top to have and hold good employees," Duckstad said.

Young declined to join them, however, saying he is satisfied that Eden Prairie salaries are in the mid-range of comparable cities. He endorsed City Manager Scott Neal's recommendation to give the staff 3 percent raises in 2008 and 2009.

When property taxes are going up by only 9 percent, it's not the time to give city employees a below-market wage increase, Neal told council members. A $9 increase in taxes for the median priced house is considerably less than other years when tax increases ranged from $84 in 2002 to $65 in 2006 to $36 last year, Neal said. "I think $9 is a reasonable number."

Eden Prairie is able to hold the tax increase low because "we now have the fourth-largest tax capacity in the state -- behind only Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington," Neal said.

Council Member Sherry Butcher opposed a reduction in the capital improvement levy. She said it is shortsighted and unwise to discontinue the city's longstanding pay-as-you-go practice of putting away money every year for road, trail, building and other maintenance needs.

Butcher said residents wanted the community center expansion -- they approved it by referendum and expected to pay more to operate it. Offsetting that cost by collecting less for capital improvements is like telling people "you are going to get a fabulous community center but you aren't going to have to pay for it," Butcher said.

But Aho said the community center operating costs are higher than anyone expected, and other new capital projects should be postponed as a result. He said his hope is that public costs will come down as the center generates more revenue.

Council Member Kathy Nelson said she is willing to accept a temporary reduction in capital improvement spending. But she opposed the elimination of the Somali liaison position.

" It's the kind of service that this community still needs to have," she said. With such a large number of Somali immigrants living in Eden Prairie -- as many as 5,000 by city estimates -- "it makes sense that somebody speaks Somali within the city," Nelson said.

Young said that he would be willing to contribute some city funds toward the position if other units of government or private groups also contributed.

The council will vote Nov. 13 on which human services contracts to continue next year.

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News 11/01/2007:

Taking steps to control city budget growth
By Phil Young, Eden Prairie

The operating budget for the city of Eden Prairie has grown substantially over the last seven years and now stands at around $40,000,000. In a time of low inflation, low to moderate private sector wage growth, and the end of Eden Prairie’s growth boom and the easy money generated by it, fiscal discipline by the City Council is increasingly important. Annual budget increases of 6 to 8 percent simply are not sustainable over the long term and must be moderated.

The good news is that budget growth can be moderated without taking police officers off the street, letting streets fall apart, under-paying city employees, closing parks, or doing any of the other things which critics like to threaten whenever the subject of fiscal discipline is raised. The reality is that Eden Prairie will never be a low service or low tax city; but, there’s no reason we need to continue leading our peer cities in per capita taxation.

The first step in controlling budget growth is electing leaders who ask questions and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. I think the city has made good progress in this regard. This year, for example, Council Members Jon Duckstad and Brad Aho have suggested temporarily suspending our annual levy of $1 million for capital improvements in order to cushion the impact to the budget because of increased costs associated with the Community Center expansion. Council Member Kathy Nelson has also given some consideration to a temporary reduction of this levy. But, irrespective of what decision the council ultimately makes, even just debating an idea like this makes our process better.

The second step in controlling budget growth is making the budget process more open with more opportunities for citizen input. Our process today, with preliminary budgets in the spring, multiple council workshops talking about the budget, and input from the newly formed citizens Budget Advisory Commission, is much better than when I joined the council in 2003. Council Member Sherry Butcher has been an important supporter of this improved process.
The third step in controlling budget growth is execution – defining the city’s mission and expending public funds towards that mission in the most prudent manner possible. Does this mean taking cops off the street or letting streets fall apart? Of course not. But, it should include the following: 1) looking for efficiencies and controlling the expansion of city services into non-core functions; 2) providing services regionally or in partnership with other taxing jurisdictions where possible; 3) establishing metrics as a tool for wage increases; 4) avoiding pet projects.

This last step is the hardest and will involve some missteps. The city did not do a good job (and I include myself in this criticism) of identifying the true cost of the Community Center project before we asked voters to approve it at referendum. More recently, the council agreed to reduce the rent for the Dunn Bros. franchisee at the Smith Douglas More house by 80 percent because the business is struggling – that rent reduction should have been rejected and we should be looking for another retail tenant.

But, there’s good news, too, and there is no doubt in my mind that the budget ultimately approved by the City Council for 2008 will be much better because of the current council leadership and the improvement to our budget process. These improvements are a direct result of decisions made by voters in the ballot booth. The result is that the city is well positioned to continue providing excellent service while avoiding excessive property tax increases.
Phil Young is the mayor of Eden Prairie

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News 09/13/2007:

Council is improved, 10 percent is too high
By Paul Gallenberger, Eden Prairie

I am glad to see that council members are openly indicating their positions during the budget debate that has just been initiated. It is a drastic improvement over the revised meeting minutes, and lack of discussion allowed during the past eight years of council politics. I am also glad to see the Budget Advisory Commission initiated much of the current discussion, as they are proving their value already, by initiating discussion.

The hard work begins now. Past councils have, for the most part, rubber stamped every council budget recommendation. Eden Prairie, as a direct result, has one of the highest per capita tax rates in the metro area. If the council were to pass a 10 percent increase in taxes it would be a complete failure in my opinion, and to anyone else that voted to keep taxes lower.

I am not going to write and say “cut this” or “save that.” That is the council’s job to determine and I believe we finally have a council that is willing to do its job. I just want the council to know that people have left Eden Prairie, and more are contemplating leaving Eden Prairie due to taxes, and nobody ever takes this into account, which is a true shame.

What I’m trying to say is that I truly don’t care what you cut, that is your responsibility to decide, and you will get yelled at by a few hotheads no matter how you arrive at a reasonable budget. A 10 percent increase is not reasonable. Three percent is reasonable, 4 percent maybe but you would be pushing it. If you decide to cut things that affect me, I will live by your decision and life will go on just as it will for everyone else (God willing). Please don’t let a few people playing politics, saying you’re killing “quality of life,” affect your discussions. Most people don’t want to write into the newspaper so the few people who write in constantly every month of the year, are not even remotely representative of the city. It’s time to throw their politics away, and time for a council that represents discussion, hard work and action.

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News 09/13/2007:

City spending leading to doubling of property taxes
By Tom Briant, Eden Prairie

The recent protests by some residents over proposed reductions in the Eden Prairie human services department budget has overshadowed the much larger issue of excessive spending that is on track to double the city’s property taxes in just eight more years.

At the Dec. 13, 2005, City Council meeting, Council Member Brad Aho predicted that the city’s budget would double in 10 years by 2015 if spending continued to increase by 7 percent each year. This prediction is fast becoming a reality.

The real question that no one seems to be asking, including local conservatives, is “Why is spending increasing at such high rates?” The 2006 city general operating budget increased 6.8 percent or $2,062,000 over the 2005 budget. For 2007, spending was raised again by 5.7 percent or $1,832,000. Now, for the 2008 budget, City Manager Scott Neal has presented the City Council with a 6.3 percent increase in spending which equals another $2,154,000 property tax increase.

The city manager may respond that his version of the 2008 budget reduced the actual increase in spending requested by top city staff who collectively preferred to raise spending in 2008 by 9.3 percent or $3.1 million dollars. Mr. Neal may also claim that the tax impact on homeowners is small when you spread $2,154,000 over the total number of homes in the city. This type of argument that minimizes property tax impacts can be made for any spending increase and is used to deflect criticism away from the real issue of an excessive $2,154,000 spending increase.

With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the current inflation rate stands at 2.4 percent for the past 12 months, why is the city manager proposing to increase spending by more than two and one-half times the current inflation rate?

For each of the past two years, the City Council has been presented with a list of unnecessary expenditures and reasonable spending reductions of more than $1,000,000 that would not impact police and fire protection, utility services and local parks. However, these recommendations have been essentially dismissed by Democrat and Republican council members alike.

Even with the City Council’s refusal to reduce unnecessary expenditures (such as the $36,000 in car allowances paid to city staff members annually to buy or lease a personal car to drive to and from work including a $6,000 personal car allowance paid to Scott Neal in addition to his CEO level base salary of $134,971), the real reason why spending continues unabated can be traced back to the city manager, his city staff and the City Council.

Essentially, Scott Neal and the city department heads who compile the budget have few budgeting restrictions placed upon them by the City Council. Despite continued suggestions to council members that they set spending parameters for the city staff, the council has not provided staff with any concrete spending guidelines to restrict spending levels. While the council has held budget workshops, the outcome of those sessions have been nebulous objectives and philosophical discussions as opposed to hard and fast spending limits.

Moreover, and this a very important fact, when individual council members have requested budget options at specified amounts, those requests have for all intents and purposes been ignored and rejected by Scott Neal and his city staff. In the fall of 2005, Council Member Brad Aho requested that city staff develop budget options for 2006 with 3 percent, 4 percent and 5 percent spending increases without reducing the budgets for police, fire and other critical services. Instead, budgets with 4.7 percent and 5.2 percent increases were presented and Council Member Aho never received the budget options he requested.

More recently, at a council budget workshop held in May of this year, Council Member Jon Duckstad asked for a proposed 2008 budget option that had no spending increases (a zero percent increase option). Instead, as stated above, the city manager has presented the council with a budget calling for a 6.3 percent spending increase. Are you detecting a pattern here?

When an elected City Council member makes a specific request to city staff for various budget options, the council member has every right to expect that request will be fulfilled and city staff has the responsibility to provide exactly what has been asked for by the elected official. After all, the city manager was hired by and works for the City Council, not vice versa.

The results of the November elections sent a clear message to the City Council and the city staff. Reduce unnecessary spending and lower property taxes. Apparently, that message seems to be falling on some deaf ears. The end result will be the very real possibility that the city budget and local property taxes will double from their 2005 levels in just eight short years. When this doubling of property taxes occurs, will anyone seriously boast of Eden Prairie’s quality of life?

Tom Briant is a resident of Eden Prairie and was a cofounder of the Eden Prairie Taxpayers Alliance.

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie Sun-Current 08/29/2007:

Human services not the job of city government
By Robert Becker, Eden Prairie

I am responding to guest columnist Cari Maguire (Eden Prairie Sun-Current, Aug. 16). I'll start by answering the question in the title: "Is human service an Eden Prairie value?" The answer is YES, but on an individual level, not on the backs of taxpayers.

I fully support the city giving grants to non-city social service agencies, but do not agree that the city needs its own human services staff. The non-city organizations have staffs that manage grants, and are accountable to provide the services they specialize in.

Maguire also mentions the 1 percent effect on her family's tax bill. I would encourage her to make that $10 donation directly to the organization of her choice, as I do when contributing to the United Way.

The voters clearly communicated last fall that what has been done for 40 years is not necessarily what is needed now. City staff is expensive, and should be questioned in every department.

I voted for the current administration, as the majority did, and I fully support the direction that the City Council and the city manager are moving. I do not believe that our municipality needs to have city staff to be part of the safety net that is provided by, as Maguire states, "the state, the county, faith communities and nonprofits."

Eden Prairie values are a reflection of the acts of individuals in the community, not the result of a mission statement prepared by city staff.

The following is reprinted from the Eden Prairie News 08/23/2007:

It's Time To Give The City Budget a BRAKE
By Jon Duckstad, Eden Prairie

As the work intensifies to shape a 2008/09 Eden Prairie city budget, it is a time for the City Council to balance spending and taxes, to examine short- and long-range goals and to consider how future revenue will keep up with fast-rising expenses and cumulative debt.

The work process includes a “first.” The city manager, staff and council are being assisted by a conscientious Budget Advisory Task Force. It is the initial step to improve the budget-making process; we are learning from it and are seeing ways the council can more pro-actively guide its direction. To improve is a must as we try to restrain spending and keep taxes under control.

First, spending is sharply up. A review of our 2006/07 budgets reveals significant spending increases over previous years:

Eden Prairie Budget
Year Total % Increase Budget (Decrease)
2005 $33,943,801 + 5.3%
2006 $36,968,552 + 8.9%
2007 $39,261,313 + 6.2%

If this same level of spending continues, our total city-operating budget will double in 13 years, even though our population growth will have leveled off markedly. The recent $15 million Community Center project and additional park projects have raised additional fiscal concerns. For example, the increased annual cost of operating the center, over and above the anticipated revenue from the facility, reportedly will be about $1 million annually.

Serious concerns do not end here. Cumulative debt has increased substantially since 2004. The Community Center project was an outgrowth of demand for expanded services. It also is a component of the cumulative debt. Debt can be relatively painless when the tax base is growing but can turn out troublesome if development slows as other costs continue to rise. As Eden Prairie ages, we need to think about that.

Eden Prairie Yearly Debt Obligation
Year Total
2005 $34 million
2006 $45 million
2007 $50+ million (anticipated)

The 2008 projected increase in debt service obligation of approximately $345,000 will drive the 2008 and 2009 budgets even higher.

So how much spending is necessary? Our City Council must decide annually what is necessary to deliver city services. For a view of how we might determine that level, a review of the 2003 and 2004 budgets may be helpful:

Eden Prairie Budget
Year Total % Increase Budget (Decrease)
2003 $31,509,348 (-1.4%)
2004 $32,238,933 + 2.3%

In the face of state decisions to hold off on certain types of funding to communities, needs were reviewed and solutions were found. That council – which included current Council Member Sherry Butcher and Mayor Phil Young, also a member then – should be complimented for their valuable contributions to those budget initiatives.

As a result of these 2003 and 2004 budgets, the city was awarded three distinguished and coveted awards from the National Government Finance Officer Association:

(1) The Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the year ended Dec. 31, 2003;

(2) a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the period beginning Jan. 1, 2004; and

(3) an Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Annual Financial Reporting for the fiscal period beginning Jan. 1, 2003.

In addition, the city was awarded the highest bond rating, AAA, from Moody's Investors Services in 2003. Out of 834 cities in Minnesota rated by Moody's, only six had bonds rated AAA.

A solution to burgeoning budgets may require our City Council to take a more pro-active approach to guiding the direction of the budget-making process. Our City Council should consider providing guidelines to the city manager to improve the process.

These should include three practices Moody’s recognizes valuable when it sets a bond rating:

* Fund-balance target levels: A plan could be adopted establishing certain fund balance levels to assure tighter expenditure controls.

* Capping debt levels: A debt policy that sets a cap or limit on cumulative debt.

* Multi-year budget planning: Annual budget initiatives should embrace multi-year (three- to five-year) planning. This would enable our budget process to adequately spread out starts on significant capital improvements or other costly items to insure sensible budget planning.

These actions could strengthen our ability to rein in spending and maintain fiscally responsible budgets.
Jon Duckstad is in the first year of a four-year term on the Eden Prairie City Council.

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