In a recent editorial [Northfield News] on raising taxes, Mayor Pownell claims that “the politically easy strategy” would be to keep taxes within the 0-2% range for 2020. Assuming that the Mayor is right that 10% tax increases are necessary, how did we get the point of double-digit increases?
During my tenure, the City had a $3.0 million surplus, or about 100% more cash than needed in the General Fund and healthy fund balance reserves. In my opinion, we had 3 responsible choices – lower taxes, pay down debt, or upgrade facilities. We did none of the 3. Instead, we increased taxes at the 0-2% rate, and we started spending, taking on debt, and gifting that has carried over to today. Taxpayers are now faced with a 6-fold inflationary tax increase, more debt, and inadequate facilities – such as spilled sewage and a fire at the sewage plant, and inadequate fire protection at the ice arena. So, what happened to the money?
Here is a partial list: $1.0 million for a bike trail, $3.0 million for a park, $0.5 million in excess interest, $2.3 million in cash, land, interest, and TIF money to the new hotel, and $0.4 million on the TIGER trail. The spending, debt, and gifting have continued to this day – including, just this year, $1.5 million for a roundabout and $1.5 million for high-end private apartments. And, In our future, there still looms a $21 million ice arena. Was this spending necessary? Reasonable? Fair?
While on the Council, I tried to keep in mind those who could least afford tax increases, and who most needed my voice. I liked to ask myself, “How is this going to help the widow? The single mom? The small businessmen? The blue collar worker? ” These people, all people, have been paying for gifting, bike trails, and high-end hotels while our sewage plant is leaking and on fire. Contrary to the Mayor, I think the politically easy solution is to raise taxes; the harder solution is to admit that not all spending is necessary, reasonable, nor fair.