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By John Diers Feb 10, 2020

Hold on to your wallet. According to Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs, Prior Lake homeowners could get stuck with upwards of $25 million if a recent state Supreme Court decision stands and this upcoming legislative session takes no action on bills authored by Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, and Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.

At issue is who should pay for roadway improvements made necessary by developers’ residential housing projects. Two years ago, Woodbury developer Dennis Harstad sued when Woodbury wanted $1.3 million in development fees to pay for city road improvements made necessary by Harstad’s project.

Woodbury’s demands seemed reasonable — more people, more cars, more pressure on local roadways. Logically, shouldn’t the developer pay upfront when it’s their development project that facilitates the need, and the demand, for more roads and city services? Why should the costs fall on current homeowners and businesses?

A lot of money is at stake. In a typical year, according to Mayor Briggs, the city of Prior Lake takes in roughly $225,000 in fees from residential developers for street improvements. The problem is that Prior Lake, like Lakeville and Dayton and Woodbury and other growing cities, lacks clear state statutory authority to levy the fees — which is why the Supreme Court ruled for Harstad.

Giving cities that statutory authority is what the Tabke and Pratt legislation is about. Without it, developers can pick up $225,000 for themselves, and Prior Lake residents get stuck with the difference on their property tax bills.

It also explains why, despite strong support from the league of Minnesota Cities, special interests have the legislation in their sights. Enter the Builder’s Association of the Twin Cities, AKA Housing First Minnesota, a developer trade association and lobbying group.

BATC markets itself as a friend of the homebuyer and affordable housing. It argues that municipal fees and regulations drive up housing costs and make it impossible to build a single-family home in the Twin Cities for less than $375,000.


I can remember when a simple, new home with three bedrooms and two baths went for $85,000. Of course, it wasn’t 4,000 square feet, nor did it have a three-car garage or sit on a half-acre lot on a cul-de-sac in a project with an upscale name. Housing costs are grossly inflated, but how much of it is driven by developers and landowner speculation? Expensive homes on big lots mean more profits for developers and landowners. That’s why they build them.

Comes the question: Is the BATC a friend of the homebuyer and affordable housing, or is it about fattening developer profits and sticking the costs to current residents? I suspect the latter, and so does the League of Minnesota Cities. The League was blunt in the January-February edition of its journal, Minnesota Cities Magazine:

The League believes that BATC’s work is financially motivated, and that BATC is using cities as scapegoats for increases in costs that affect housing affordability.

“BATC’s premise that city fees are the primary factor for the lack of affordable housing is simply false,” says David Unmacht, League executive director.

“This premise is not based on fact, and we believe BATC’s motive is to raise the profits of builders at the expense of property taxpayers. This issue is greater than just affordability, and the League will do everything we can to defeat legislation that limits local control, or the ability of our cities to ensure that development pays for itself.”

Bravo for the League of Minnesota Cities, State Rep. Tabke, State Sen. Pratt, Mayor Briggs and the entire Prior Lake City Council and others who’ve taken up this cause for current homeowners and businesses. They need our support. This same legislation failed in last year’s session. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Development doesn’t pay for itself, nor should businesses or retired homeowners or young families struggling with student loans get stuck with the costs of development. It’s said we live in a new Gilded Age. A better term might be the Age of Inequity — an absence of simple fairness that puts greed above the common good.

Development costs belong with the developers. If this legislation fails again and developers are unwilling to pay their fair share and shirk their responsibility to the community, then our City Council should put a moratorium on new housing development until such time as developers are prepared to accept their responsibilities and acknowledge the common good.

Please read more from the Prior Lake American:

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com

By Wes Mader Community Columnist Jan 14, 2020

An article in the Dec. 21 edition of the Prior Lake American reported that Rick Olson, a self-declared Republican candidate for U.S. Representative for the state’s 2nd Congressional District, agreed with current representative, Democrat Angie Craig, that President Donald Trump should be impeached. This is fair news. However, the rest of the article would indicate that the PLA has clearly taken a partisan view of the impeachment drama. If our local newspaper is simply going to parrot the views of national news services that have already lost much of their credibility with the American public, why bother to read it?

I’ll be specific. The referenced PLA article reports that Jonathan Turley, a nationally-respected professor of law at Georgetown University, stated that “Trump mis-stepped” in his telephone communication with Ukraine’s president. What the PLA chose to ignore is that Turley, a Democrat, testified with clarity that the Democratic-controlled House would be guilty of abuse of power if they voted to impeach based upon the flimsy evidence they presented. What is more newsworthy, abuse of power by the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives or a president’s misstep in a telephone call? For our local newspaper to use a half-truth to justify partisan narratives of The Washington Post or The New York Times, is disingenuous.

For over two years, Russian collusion was the phrase of the day in the national news media, kept alive by a hell-bent-for-impeachment mentality by leadership in the Democratic party and by a gullible and partisan national press. Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted, trying to dig up evidence that didn’t exist. When that effort finally withered on the vine, quid pro quo became the new phrase of the day. If our local newspaper wants to present itself as a credible source of news on the subject, it ought to include a story about former Vice President Joe Biden’s publicly-recorded boast of a real Ukrainian quid pro quo. Biden publicly bragged about the Obama Administration withholding a billion dollars in aid to Ukraine, to force them to fire the Ukrainian prosecutor he disapproved of. While President Trump’s effort to check into Biden and son Hunter’s activities in Ukraine may have been a “mis-step,” the Obama Administration’s action was textbook quid pro quo.

The above sounds penny-ante as compared to the mother of all quid pro quos. In the middle of the night on Jan. 16, 2016, an unmarked plane landed in Tehran to deliver wooden pallets loaded with $400 million in cash for the Mullahs of Iran — without traceability or restriction on how the cash would be used. It came from the so-called Judgement Fund administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury, which allowed President Barack Obama to send the cash to Iran without congressional oversight or approval. The $400 million represented partial payment of $1.7 billion that went to Iran to sweeten and seal the controversial nuclear deal. Why cash on wooden pallets in an unmarked plane in the middle of the night? Undoubtedly it was a quid pro quo that Americans weren’t supposed to find out about. What sickened me most was Iranian TV flashing pictures of the cash-loaded pallets to their Iranian audience, presumably to demonstrate how Iran’s leaders had outsmarted ours.

Our nation is tragically divided. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 48% in support of and 48% opposed to impeachment. Democrats in the House of Representatives supported impeachment (with a couple of defections) and Republicans unanimously disapproved. Our country’s division (that existed even before the 2016 election), was heightened when the choice for president was Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. While Hillary Clinton was the choice of the Democratic establishment and the national news media, some voters couldn’t stomach the fact that she appeared to use the office of Secretary of State for the Clintons’ personal benefit, even reportedly erasing emails and smashing electronic devices when suspicions surfaced. Her allegation that Trump’s temperament made him unfit for office also rang true for many, so on Election Day, voters on both sides of the aisle held their noses and voted.

It’s sad that Donald Trump’s arrogant and often mean-spirited behavior didn’t improve when he was elected president. It’s sad that the Democratic leadership who couldn’t stomach the fact that he won, is continuing an effort to destroy his presidency, instead of doing what’s right for our country. And sadly, our local newspaper that could provide some balm to help bring local citizens with opposing views together, has chosen instead to take sides and rub salt into the wounds. Sad indeed.

Please read more from the Prior Lake American: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-biased-reporting-needs-to-stop/article_b0dedec2-71d6-5b6e-851e-9e729c1312f2.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

By Meg Britton-Mehlisch mbrittonmehlisch@swpub.com Jan 7, 2020

The Minnesota Capitol.

A $30,000 contract with Twin-cities based lobbying firm Messerli & Kramer is the latest attempt by the city of Prior Lake to get the Legislature to give cities the authority to charge developers for the cost of road improvements near their projects.

In a sign of regional unity, Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency members last month promised to reimburse the city for the cost.

“Never before has there been such solidarity,” Prior Lake Mayor and SCALE Chairman Kirt Briggs said. “When you’ve got the full weight of SCALE, that sends a big message.”

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a contract to employ the lobbying firm until May to try to persuade legislators to support two bills in the Minnesota House and Senate. The legislative session resumes Feb. 11.

In March, Sens. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) and John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) and Reps. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) and Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) introduced bills that would give cities the ability to charge a developer for a new subdivision’s impact on the local transportation system.

The money would be used for things like stoplights, turn lanes and street signs on roads to and from the subdivision.

The bills also create a system for developers to challenge a fee if they believe the fee isn’t proportional to the development’s impact on the city’s infrastructure.

SCALE members agreed to cover the lobbying costs and to add “pay for safe streets” to the organization’s list of legislative priorities.

Last year’s legislative priorities included changing the governance model of the Metropolitan Council to elected instead of appointed officials, increasing affordable housing through tax incentives, and state bonds for transportation and flood projects.

Over the last year Prior Lake has led the charge for street impact fees, arguing that development should pay for itself and not be offset by higher taxes for existing residents.

The city and developer groups have struggled to find common ground in months of meetings. Developers point to an August 2018 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that affirmed cities did not have the statutory authority to charge these kinds of fees.

In February, the city passed a resolution urging state legislators to adopt a statute for the fees. The Scott County Board of Commissioners and the cities of Savage, New Prague, Belle Plaine, Jordan, Elko New Market, Shakopee and Credit River Township followed suit.

Until the Supreme Court decision, the city charged a street impact fee of $6,500 per acre for new developments to cover newly needed roads nearby. City officials estimate the decision will cost the city more than $25 million over the next few decades based on the amount of undeveloped land in the city, including recent annexations.

According to the SCALE legislative priorities document, the League of Minnesota Cities and Metro Cities listed the legalization of street impact fees on their 2020 platforms as well.

Prior Lake, other growing cities debate how to move forward after Harstad v. Woodbury

Please read more from the Prior Lake American


By John Diers Nov 25, 2019

All my dad wanted in a new car was a heater and a radio, and, after World War II, that’s exactly what he brought home in a brand new 1947 Nash.

Like father, like son. My wife and I bought a new car last year with a heater and a radio — and a lot more. It’s a compact, practical vehicle, suitable for septuagenarians. We like it, even though it comes with a lot of glittering gadgetry that’s downright irritating. Dad would not have been pleased, and neither am I.

I am a pragmatist and a believer in simple solutions that are appropriate for the problem. Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify,” and as I get older and, hopefully, wiser, I’ve come to more and more understand the wisdom in his words.

I’m not alone.

A Nov. 9 feature in the Boston Globe and a study by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company found more than one in five drivers disables electronic features on their new cars, presumably because they’re a distracting nuisance. By age group, 35% of Millennials and 18% Gen Xers do so. Only 10% boomers do —because, as the article notes, younger people might be more likely to have the technical skills.

My special peeve is the blind-spot detector that beeps and flashes a light in the side view mirrors when a car comes near on the left or right. It previews what we’ll have in self-driving cars, except, in a self-driving car, a computer will be in charge, itself a frightening possibility.

I wanted to banish the beep and substitute a simple spot mirror, but I was told legal and warranty issues made it unwise to do so. I did turn off the Bluetooth feature that allows hands-free cellphone conversations. It’s an option and, when we bought the car, the salesperson took care of it. Hands-free, or not, using a cellphone while driving is dangerous. I wanted no part of it.

However, I do wish the same salesperson would have demonstrated how to change the clock from daylight saving to standard time. The manual for the car is upwards of 300 pages and is so filled with acronyms and abbreviations, and poorly organized and indexed, that I had to look through three chapters to discover how to make the switch.

Whatever happened to concise technical writing?

For the record, I am not a Luddite. I have a university degree and technical credentials. I understand the difference between Ohm’s Law and a cheeseburger. My discomfort goes to our worship of technology and the unintended consequences that come with it. Technological change is a trade-off and a Faustian bargain — a blessing and a curse.

Substituting a sensor for a spot mirror is a tiny example, but think about technological change over the past 700 years. The printing press brought universal literacy and spread scientific knowledge throughout Europe and the world. It was the mentor for Shakespeare, Copernicus, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton.

It’s why we have a Constitution and a republic, but it also fomented political and religious discord, enabled the Inquisition, encouraged ignorance and promoted the will of tyrants.

Consider railroads and the radio. Railroads came along in the 1830s, grew the national economy and settled the continent, but it took the Hepburn Act of 1906 to tame them for the common, economic good.

Marconi perfected the radio and transmitted the first transatlantic signal in 1901, but it required legislation in 1910, 1927 and the Communication Act of 1934 to put up the guardrails and set standards for use of the radio spectrum.

The International Telecommunications Union, founded as the International Telegraph Convention in 1865, has responsibility through the United Nations for international regulation of the radio spectrum.

This isn’t about stopping technological innovation or the spread of invention and new ideas. That’s an idiotic notion, and its folly to even try. Rather, it highlights how, throughout history, invention and technology sprint so far ahead of our institutions and our laws that it takes decades, even centuries, to catch up.

The internet had its beginnings linking scattered research centers in the 1960s. The number of users and interconnections grew in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then, in the early 1990s, it emerged as the World Wide Web. The internet opened every library in the world, but it also spread the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other social media and allowed foreign interests to meddle in our politics and elections and take away our privacy.

Today, that genie is out of the bottle and has raced so far ahead and so fast that, short of pulling the plug, our institutions and our laws may never catch up. Google “internet regulation,” and you’ll find 880,000 entries and 880,000 different perspectives on the issues and what to do about them. There is no consensus. There may never be one. For now, it’s a free and open market, the wild, wild west — capitalism at its best, but users beware.

Please read more from the Prior Lake America: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-technology-always-sprints-ahead-of-guardrails/article_95e2b8e7-888d-53ba-abf4-4f697ba8d9a9.html

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

By Wes Mader Community Columnist Dec 4, 2019

Media stories have highlighted the fact that many college students are graduating with debts that equal or exceed their first year’s income. With a reported 45 million Americans with college debt, mostly of voting age, it’s sad but predictable that some candidates for the Democratic nomination for president are promising to excuse the debt.

The growing entitlement mentality creates fertile fields for harvesting votes, but excusing debt doesn’t make it go away. Other working taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Before government began guaranteeing student loan repayment, loan experts at financial institutions determined whether students or their parents were creditworthy. The borrower’s promise and the expectation of the lender was that loans would be repaid.

When government stepped in, the issue of creditworthiness fell by the wayside. Unpaid loans became a taxpayer liability instead of a lender’s loss. Fiscal accountability went down the drain while college attendance and cost began to soar.

Things have changed since my oldest brother, Mike, and I decided to attend college. In 1946, Mike decided to become a Lutheran minister, leaving home after the eighth grade to attend a preparatory high school and college in Milwaukee before entering the seminary in St. Louis.

With no dollars available from home, he worked his way through school. When church council in our local Lutheran church voted to gift $400 to any of its sons who would enter the ministry, my Dad refused. He believed it unfair that other parishioners’ contributions should be used to fund his son’s education. Entitlement was a word my dad wouldn’t have understood.

My situation was similar when I headed for Valparaiso University in 1953. The only dollars available were those saved from jobs I had during grade school and high school plus an academic scholarship provided by a private individual.

Additional funds earned while in college were inadequate to make it through four years, so my dad solved the problem. He borrowed $5,000 from a local potato farmer with a handshake to seal the agreement. There was never a question about whether the loan would be repaid.

My job out of college as an engineer at an aircraft company paid $5,400 per year, which slightly exceeded my college debt. A year later, when I asked my future father-in-law banker for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he questioned whether that salary, with the debt, could provide the lifestyle his daughter had enjoyed.

I promised I could, and when Char and I were married in 1958, she added $2,700 to our annual income by teaching in a parochial grade school. Our goal was to pay off my college debt by 1960, and we did. My father’s promise to the farmer and my promise to Char’s dad were kept. We took commitment seriously and did what we had to do.

Nothing about the above was out of the ordinary in the 1950s, when the entitlement mentality didn’t exist. We learned at early age that we would have to work for what we wanted in life and what we borrowed would have to be repaid by us, not by someone else. This is what my father’s generation taught us, the generation uplifted in Tom Brokaw’s bestseller “The Greatest Generation.”

The lesson was simple, that we should be independent and self-sufficient and not reliant upon government for the things we want or need. President John Kennedy restated this principle in the early 1960s when he admonished Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I grieve at the theme promoted by some would-be presidential candidates that government should be the provider of free education plus other freebies, all paid for by taking more tax dollars from pockets of taxpaying Americans. I abhor the idea that youth are being told they shouldn’t have to pay back the loans they promised to repay and are being counseled that promises or commitments mean nothing.

If this theme prevails, we are destined to become a nation with even more citizens unable to stand on their own, dependent upon government and filling out forms for what they need. That’s not the America I envisioned for future generations.

Please read more from the Prior Lake America: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-student-debt-forgiveness-ideas-undermine-promise-s-worth/article_7a9f98e7-280e-59c1-8bc3-9d9194feb13d.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.