Commentary: Rethink what growth and development mean
Posted: Prior Lake American, Wednesday, September 16, 2015 10:45 am
By John Diers
Two council members, Monique Morton and Annette Thompson, were absent at Monday’s meeting and the council tabled action on the 2016 budget. It will be taken up at the next meeting on Sept. 28. That’s good. Much more discussion is needed before the council acts on the proposed 11.5-percent increase in the levy.
Mayor Ken Hedberg and City Manager Frank Boyles argue the increase is needed to keep pace with the city’s infrastructure needs, and insiders from City Hall including the newly hired finance director and the chairman of the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee have mobilized to rally residents to speak in support of another tax levy increase. The issues of next year’s budget and tax levy are supposed to be vetted at a public hearing, where we can all hear what city officials have to say.
At Monday’s meeting, several residents and the EDAC chairman offered concerns about the need for higher taxes to keep up the city’s roads and parks to secure and protect Prior Lake’s quality of life. I support that and would join with them if it was true. Infrastructure maintenance is necessary and important, but keep in mind most of the city’s infrastructure was built after 1996 when the Highway 169 — the Bloomington Ferry Bridge opened and set off a development boom in Scott County and Prior Lake. The city’s buildings, parks and facilities need routine care and preventive maintenance, not reconstruction.
In fact, the proposed levy increase is about growth and economic development, not quality of life. Look at the numbers. The largest share of the levy increase goes to the city’s Capital Improvement Plan. Over the next four years, city staff proposes to spend $61.3 million on new road projects — among them the extension of Arcadia Avenue to Pleasant Street and eventually to Highway 13. It would mean destroying Prior Lake’s oldest neighborhood and sacrificing a wetland, all so developers can build more parking lots and expand the village shopping district. Does that preserve and improve our small-town feel and its quality of life? Trading a neighborhood and a wetland for more asphalt and concrete is a terrible bargain. We did too much of that in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s time to stop.
Cities and towns benefit from a growing tax base associated with new growth; however, they also assume the long-term liability for maintaining new infrastructure.
Since the beginning of suburbanization, new growth has been the cure for our local economic ills. New growth creates new tax base, which provides local government with the revenue necessary to provide services and maintain infrastructure. The benefits of growth are immediate: additional tax base and tax revenue. The costs come later. It’s great for developers and landowners. They pocket the money, create the demand for services and then vanish, leaving behind a despoiled environment and the prospect of higher taxes to pay for city services. Perhaps they should pick-up a larger share of the tab or maybe we need to rethink what growth and economic development mean and the unintended consequences that come with them. Development and economic growth, and quality of life and the environment, are mutually exclusive.
This theory of economic development needs more discussion. Now, before adopting the proposed budget and levy, is a good time for the council to have that conversation.
John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (Editor’s note: Diers is a community columnist and not employed by, or paid by, the newspaper.)