Tuesday, December 23rd, 2020: In the mix of one of the worst recent winter storms of 2020, an event forcing the closing of business early in the day and barricading highways saw the continuance of a public hearing at the town hall of Granada, MN.
While repeated requests during the day to delay the meeting went answered, the planned meeting none-the-less continued as mandated by the Counsel’s chairman Daren Maday and lead Board Member Ken Felion. One member was unable to attend due to local road closures, another member arrived late and expressed her dismay at not conducting these meetings remotely or rescheduling due to weather conditions while voicing concerns over an in-person meeting with the public over Covid-19.
Aside from the storm’s attempt to hamper the meeting, the meeting was concise, and with only one member of the public attending, comments were limited. Also limited were explanations from the Board regarding the proposed plan, with the only information provided from a subjective two-page handout. (see attached)
The main takeaways from the meeting were the proposal for a five year Capital Improvements plan dated 2020 – 2024 (See attached) outlining the only improvement as purchasing a property totaling $185,000 and the official vote count for November 2020 of 125 as requested by the only public member in attendance.
Both takeaways are significate; follow along as I attempt to unpack the meaning.
In July, the Board had approved the expenditures associated with the removal and pouring of a thicker concrete pad into the existing maintenance building used by the City to store the plow and other items retained.
The existing building with modifications was expected to come in under $24,000 and, for the most part, appeared to be a done deal. The minimal improvements seemed to have been agreed upon in previous meetings with plans to eliminate the pad from around the edges, bringing the overall cost in at just under $15,000. But by the December hearing, this plan appears to have been shucked and not considered a viable alternative for storing the city-owned equipment, thus justifying a need for $185,000 of debt and property.
Other than the handed out document, the Council did not provide a reason or justification for the requested Capital Improvements, its impact on local/city taxes or when the Board would complete the finalized plan, or what it might include. In addition, there was a lack of reasoning on why the existing building with improvements is not a viable alternative.
At least one of the council members did want to know why other citizens were not in attendance that night and were gently reminded of her comments regarding dangerous conditions and lack of remote access to the meetings.
What exactly is the reason for creating a plan and taking out a large amount of financing. We might not first suppose our current buildings meet the needs for additional storage, and the full maintenance price plus improvements are lower by a factor of 1/10th of the proposed bond program.
How is it we are about to engage in a plan costing two-thirds the water tower price, benefiting less than 3% of Granada’s population in total while placing the burden on 100% of its citizens?
What is going on here?
It would make sense that the Counsel would want a full and proper Hearing and a vote from the citizens to increase taxes to pay for the bond plus interest. But instead, while both attending and none attending board members object to the Winter Meeting, we still push it through and without input from those affected.
It is reasonable to conclude by example; the board chairman did not let even a winter storm or days before a significant holiday interrupt the Hearing’s scheduling. It is no secret that the Hearing completion starts a 30-day clock for citizens to petition the Board for a city-wide vote. In this way, with nobody watching, they can secretly close on the title come late January or February and before anyone can object. A ploy I have witnessed from this group of elected officials many times in the past three years. They do know how to play their constituency, even if it means using questionable and possibly criminal tactics.
It’s also not a stretch to say the homeowners on Sparks Drive and East Meager St have had their fill of god awful noise, concrete dust, and trucks running all hours of the day and night. Having to clean their pools of debris, wash their windows and siding, and wash the dust off their cars. This all takes its toll on the neighbors near the abuse and reported eyesore. And I can say that first hand.
But hasn’t that also been voiced about the towns other noise and dust making facility? Have they not received the very same complaints regarding the same events?
It is also not a stretch to say that both businesses have received their share of complaints but have had entirely different City Counsel experiences.
One business owner has seen a consistent attempt by the Granada Town Board to deploy “Use Permits,” Specialized ordinances, and verbal agreements with potential buyers to resolve the noise and dust complaints, while the other has enjoyed complete immunity from the same Board members even after continued escalating of complaints of damages to City, County, and Federal authorities.
Why should the City then buy out one business to eliminate this nuisance if the City or its majority citizens benefit from the viable, less costly alternative? And why create a five-year Capital Plan where the only item is to purchase a $185,000 space at the cost of more practical needs expressed over the past decade.
On the face, the councils’ goal to purchase the concrete crushing facility may have less to do with the City or its citizens’ benefit, but a more leisurely way to address repeated complaints of those living in the area standing to benefit from the buyout and their representatives on the Council.
Eleven properties stand to gain a better quality of life through the usability of their property and a potential increase in property value through the City of Granada’s Financing, closure, and subsequent purchase. Yet the City can not afford those near the other operations the same consideration? This is a prime example of the Equal Protection Clause in our national constitution.
Moving on, the remaining 89 taxable properties will carry almost 90% of the $185,000 bill while achieving negligible value. To put that in perspective, If a moderate 2% increase in livability translate to property value, the 11 properties accumulatively will see a potential valuation increase of around $33,000.
Total estimated property tax collected due to debt would be around $2,350 per household at 5% interest on $185,000. So the total paid for the 11 properties in taxes will extend to $25,850 on a return of $33,000. Meanwhile, the rest of the town will foot an estimated amount of $210,000, including interest.
For $2,350, I could get my sewer fixed, preventing water from entering my buildings, install a new sidewalk, and still have enough left over to chip in for a new children’s park and dog park.
Instead, I can look forward to being one of the 25% of Granada’s taxable properties that continue to be subjected to the same abuse of noise and dust from the business operations in the center of town while we are mandated to carry 25% of the cost with no quality improvement of life or property value.
We need a reality check; if there is an expense in the six-digit figure plus interest over the next five years, the investment value should benefit at least two-thirds of the taxable base. Providing for only the top 11% is a pure case of misuse and disregard for their fiduciary responsibility.
Let’s be reasonable. This is not a case where the City set out to find a location to set up a maintenance shed because of a need unfulfilled. They didn’t say, “Hey, we need more land and a bigger facility, or we will see cost overruns.”
Further, only two of the members wanted to purchase the property in the first place. Both are affected by the Board’s decision in one way or the other. Others have yet to go on record as opposing it publicly but do so privately. And a third received the Boards protection from complaints regarding their business interests. It is shady at best.
No, it is more likely three city members wanted to buy this property, abandon all improvements in the current building, and killed any current efforts to implement special Ordinances or Use Permits to force any new owner to comply. They wanted the easy way out. And for $2,350 per member, this solution poses the best option for solving a decads old abuse problem.
If the Board were truly ever engaged in its constituents and not their own self-interest, they would be proposing a capital plan that includes many if not all of the following:
-Upgrading of all sewer covers to prevent water build-up.
-Maintenance program for all sewer lines, both septic, and watershed.
-Rebuilding all the residential culverts
-Replacing and improving the local park facilities.
-Establishing at least one large area dog park.
-Repair of streets and roads other than just those around the railroad tracks.
-Actively seeking to hire additional volunteer Fire and First Responders without prejudice.
-Taking the Railroad up on a discount price to build a second gate and eliminate the horn blowing through the town.
-Establish a bonding program to assist Main Street business and homeowners to establish both safety and manageability of sidewalks.
-Develop an online website for Granada, MN, and an online payment system for utility bills.
-Codify the Citys ordinances and use technology to maintain the ongoing changes.
-Engage local businesses to acknowledge the needs of the community.
If you believe $185K has no other value than to purchase the Concrete Processing business, and no doubt at least 11 of you do, then don’t complain as your property taxes are increased, and overall infrastructure continues to degrade. For the rest, we need you to get involved.
Based on the notice of the public meeting and the declared voter roll call of 125. Rounding up, you only need 7 taxpayers to sign a petition to force a pause of the plan and send it to a city-wide vote. Who will be that lucky one?