Anoka County Watchdog email update 9/23/16

Anoka County Watchdog email update 9/23/16

E-mail Update
9/23/16

In This Issue:
September 23, 2016

Quote of the Week: “The County’s budget flexibility remains very strong, as demonstrated by the maintenance of very strong fund balances, reflecting strong management practices.”

– Standard and Poor’s, commenting on Anoka County

Quote of the Week: “The biggest chunk of the 2016 budget, $34.5 million, is earmarked for road and bridge projects.”

– Fridley Sun Focus, commenting on Anoka County’s 2016 capital investment budget

Quote of the Week: “The Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting is the highest form of recognition for governmental budgeting, accounting, and financial reporting. It recognizes that the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) meets the highest standards, including demonstrating a “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial position to the public. This is the twenty-eighth consecutive year Anoka County has earned GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.”

– News report, December of 2015

In This Issue:

Cutting Through the Crap.

CUTTING THROUGH THE CRAP

Every election cycle, there are lies, damn lies, BS, whoppers, little white lies, misrepresentations, tall tales, and all manner of untruthfulness that voters have to wade through.

Of course, this cycle is no different. That’s why the Watchdog is here and has been here since 2005.

Readers should know that there is a whole bunch of BS and whoppers being told in the races for the Anoka County Board.

With four seats in play, control of the board is at stake.

So let’s put on our hip boots and visit the rumors, whispers, and accusations being hurled around with abandon.

BOND RATING

Like any government or business, Anoka County borrows money to build and maintain capital improvements, like roads, bridges, and county buildings.

A borrower’s “bond rating” is a measure of the borrower’s creditworthiness.

Thus, a bond rating is very similar to a credit rating. These ratings set both the amount and interest rate associated with borrowing money.

For a number of years, Anoka County had a sterling “AAA” bond rating.

In late 2014, the county’s bond rating was dropped one notch to “AA+.”

The Good Ol’ Boys network, backing certain challengers for the board, have cited this downgrade as evidence of fiscal mismanagement under the current conservative-majority board.

In other words, it’s the board’s fault for the downgrade.

So, what’s the truth?

The truth is that the bond rating was dropped because the rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, changed their rating criteria in response to the Great Recession.

That additional criteria measured the buying power of county taxpayers and had nothing to do with county government.

Under this new criteria, the county’s taxpayers were deemed to have “effective buying power” that just missed the cutoff to maintain the “AAA” rating.

In fact, Standard and Poor’s lavished praise on the county’s financial management practices, noting that financial practices were “strong, well-embedded and likely sustainable.”

Let’s also not forget that the New Guard, unlike the Good Ol’ Boys, instituted a policy of paying for projects wherever possible with cash, instead of borrowing money and paying it back with interest.

In fact, as recently as 2013, the county didn’t bond for any capital improvements, instead paying cash.

Moreover, this board has established a cash account from which to pay for capital improvements.

It doesn’t pay for all of them, but it cuts down on the practice of borrowing money, which ran rampant under Dan Erhart, King of the Good Ol’ Boys.

And that’s one more thing to remember. Another claim is that the board is “spending down reserves” to fund capital improvements.

Not true. This fund is designed to pay for projects and isn’t a reserve fund at all.

TRANSPARENCY

A second allegation is that this board isn’t transparent, that it “operates in secret.”

Of course, the county is subject to the state’s open meeting and data practices laws, which come with heavy penalties for non-compliance.

Next, the county web site has an entire page dedicated to transparency, called the “transparency portal.”

The page is chock full of notices, documents, and county policies.

Nest, there is yet another web page where interested citizens can sign up for email notifications for just about any activity with which the county is involved.

Of course, there could always be more transparency, but the answer to “how much” has to be weighed against other considerations.

For example, should every single committee meeting be televised? What about all the joint powers groups, like the Mosquito Control District or the Solid Waste Management Board?

Perhaps more importantly, the county’s current practices should be compared to past practice.

How ironic that Dan Erhart and his cronies are propagating a bogus narrative about a lack of transparency.

One Watchdog staffer remembers calling the county board when Erhart was chairman, asking to address the board during the public comment period.

The staffer was informed that there was no such agenda item and that if he wanted to speak, he had to obtain prior permission from the board as well as submit the proposed comments, in writing, for review.

Or recall when Erhart wouldn’t publish his county email address. He instead listed a phone number, both to avoid emails which could be requested under the Data Practices Act and to avoid a written record of responses to an issue.

And these guys whine about transparency.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

A third claim is that the county is difficult to work with, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining jobs.

To the best of this publication’s knowledge, the challengers and their Good Ol’ Boy backers haven’t provided any concrete examples or empirical data to support the claim.

Again, the county web site provides a great number of resources to assist businesses in navigating government and doing business in the county.

At least two county newsletters recently have featured extensive articles on business development.

The county also participates in organizations that engage in business development, such as the Itasca Group.

And there’s also that small matter of taxes. This board has cut taxes or held the levy flat time and again. Low tax rates matter and this board has kept rates low, unlike their predecessors.

The old board thought a $317 million train on the west side of the county was “economic development.”

Really. Go drive by the stations in Fridley, Coon Rapids, and Anoka and look for the “economic development.” If you find it, let us know. We haven’t seen it.

And speaking of transportation, it is clear from this board’s budgets that roads and bridges are the priority, and not trains.

In fact, it was this county board that withdrew the county from the Northern Lights Express train from Minneapolis to Duluth. They must have figured one train was enough.

And don’t forget about junkets. Remember the old days when the commissioners went on regular junkets, including Hawaii, where some arrived a day early “to avoid jet lag?”

Remember when Dan Erhart and Dennis Berg went to Idaho to “inspect” Northstar rail locomotives, even though neither is a diesel mechanic and the locomotive could have easily been “inspected” in Anoka County when they arrived a few days later?

We bring up the way things were in Anoka County not so long ago for reasons beyond a simple trip down memory lane.

It is quite clear that the Good Ol’ Boy network is strongly supporting some of the challengers to the current board.

Names like “Erhart” are all over campaign finance reports. Reports from the field indicate that the Good Ol’ Boys are out there campaigning on behalf of challengers.

Dan Erhart himself and his toady sidekick, Steve Novak, are very visible around the campaigns.

These circumstances provide county voters with a very clear choice in November.

If you like the current style of county governance in the county, you should vote the incumbents.

If you want to go back to the Good Ol’ Boy style of governance, the challengers are for you.

Regardless of how you choose to vote, however, you should know the facts.

Every man is entitled to his own opinion but not his own set of facts.

It is obvious that the Good Ol’ Boys are waging a proxy war against the current board by supporting challengers.

There is a clear contrast and thus a clear choice for voters in November.

Braastad seeking re-election to Anoka County Board

Julie Braastad has announced her bid for re-election to the Anoka County Board in the upcoming 2016 election.

Braastad was first elected to the county board in 2012 to represent the residents of District 2, which encompasses Ham Lake, East Bethel, Bethel and portions of Andover and Blaine. Prior to serving on the county board she served on the Ham Lake City Council for six years and the Planning and Zoning Commission for two years.

“I’m truly honored and have thoroughly enjoyed serving the people of Anoka County. Since taking office, my highest priority has been promoting efficiency in government and keeping taxes as low as possible, while still providing essential government services. One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is that our County Board has been able to reduce the county’s debt by approximately $50 million,” Braastad said.

In her first term on the County Board, Braastad has served as the chairperson of both the Public Safety Committee and the Intergovernmental & Community Relations Committee. Other committee assignments include: Finance & Capital Improvements, Human Services, Joint Law Enforcement Council, Tri-County Regional Forensic Lab, MN Extension, Workforce Development Board, Airport Committee, Metropolitan Mosquito Control District Board, Regional Railroad Authority, Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the North Metro TH 65 Corridor Coalition.

Braastad is the past Sr. Vice President and a current member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW Post 10796 in Ham Lake. “I am very committed to supporting our veterans and am thankful for the sacrifices they have made for us,” Braastad said. She is one of the organizers of the Toys for Troops drive, and is a member of both the Ham Lake and East Bethel Chambers of Commerce.

Braastad has lived in Ham Lake for over twenty years and in Anoka County her entire life. She and her husband Rick have two adult daughters, a son-in-law and two granddaughters. Braastad is a certified paralegal and assists her husband in his electrical contracting business. They have been attending Constance Free Church for almost twenty-five years.

From www.abcnewspapers.com

Anoka County Board revokes wheelage tax

By Peter Bodley
July 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Anoka County residents won’t have to pay a wheelage tax effective Jan. 1, 2014.

The Anoka County Board on a 5-2 vote July 25 revoked the $5 wheelage tax, which a prior county board had voted had put in place in June 2006.

The $5 has been collected from motorists as part of the annual fee paid they pay when they purchase license plate tabs for their vehicles each year.

The tax money has been used, some $1.4 million a year, specifically for projects on the county’s road and bridge system.

Back in 2006, the Minnesota Legislature allowed metro area counties to impose the $5 wheelage tax if they wished.

What prompted the current Anoka County Board to reconsider the wheelage tax was new legislation passed by the 2013 Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Legislature not only extended the wheelage tax option to counties outside the metro area, but increased the tax to $10 per year effective Jan. 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2017.

But there was no provision in the law to allow counties to retain the existing $5 a year tax.

If the county board had taken no action to revoke wheelage tax by Aug. 1, then it would automatically increase to $10 per vehicle per year come Jan. 1, 2014.

The county board action came on a recommendation from its Public Works Committee. Commissioners Carol LeDoux and Jim Kordiak voted no.

According to LeDoux, she struggled with this issue, but believes the wheelage tax serves the public good by providing funds for county road and bridge funds.

The tax amounts to 7 cents a day and returns $1.4 million a year to the county road and bridge system, LeDoux said.

While the county board has made great efficiencies in the past three years, the Legislature continues to pass laws that have “unintended consequences” on the county and its cities, she said.

“We had no plans to change it if the tax had remained at $5,” LeDoux said.

If the $10 wheelage tax was not in place, then the state gas tax would need to be raised 14 cents a gallon to compensate, she said.

Eliminating the wheelage tax will “saddle the property taxpayer” with paying more, LeDoux said.

According to Kordiak, the county board in 2006 “showed wisdom” and was a leader in using the wheelage tax provision in state law to provide more money for road and bridge projects.

He voted for it then and he supported the increase to $10, Kordiak said.

“The wheelage tax is a user fee on people who drive on the roads, like tolls,” he said.

The property tax is more regressive than the wheelage tax, he said.

Revoking the wheelage tax is a “curious step” for the county board to take and a “wrong-headed direction,” Kordiak said.

A dozen counties have opted to impose the wheelage tax under the new law, including two in the metro area that previously did not have the wheelage tax, he said.

According to County Commissioner Matt Look, anytime the county board has the opportunity to reduce a tax, he will support it.

The state has given the county no choice in whether it wanted to increase the tax from $5 to $10, Look said.

And in Look’s view, everyone uses roads in one way or another and should share in the cost, he said.

Revoking the wheelage tax is a “good move,” Look said.

County Commissioner Robyn West agreed with Look. “Everyone uses the roads whether they drive or not and they need the services that roads provide,” she said.

According to West, the state law increase of the wheelage tax without the county’s ability to keep it at the present $5 takes away from local control.

County Commissioner Scott Schulte also supported the wheelage tax revocation, he said.

The efficiencies that the county board and county staff have put in place over the past two years will mean that the loss of the wheelage tax income will not have a negative impact on the county’s road and bridge system, nor on the property tax levy, Schulte said.

County Commissioner Julie Braastad described the revocation of the wheelage tax as “responsible government.”

According to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, the Legislature has imposed this wheelage tax increase on counties because of issues with the state’s computer system handling the $5 charge, Sivarajah said.

“It’s either zero or $10, but I have no great faith that the state will solve the problem and by 2018, the wheelage tax will be increased to $20,” she said.

Revoking the wheelage tax is the responsible and right thing for the county board to do, Sivarajah said.

The county has been able to successfully leverage money from state and federal sources for its road and bridge projects, she said.

Indeed, for every dollar the county spends on roads and bridges, it receives $3 from other sources, Sivarajah said.

The wheelage tax is also very regressive because seniors on fixed incomes and those people who are less well off have to pay the same amount each year as the wealthy, she said.

“By revoking the wheelage tax, the county board will be a leader,” Sivarajah said.

 

Peter Bodley is at
peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

ANOTHER VICTORY FOR THE TAXPAYER!

Elections indeed have consequences. In Anoka County, those consequences have been nothing short of excellent for the hard working, middle class folks who make this fair county their home.

This week, the county board repealed “prevailing wages” on large county projects, thereby saving taxpayers money.

Prevailing wage requires a contractor to pay certain wages on a construction project, not what the market will bear.

By repealing prevailing wages, a broader range of contractors will be able to compete for work and the price the taxpayers will pay will be more reflective of market conditions instead of a government-imposed wage that is often times higher than the average wage rate in the market.
Sources tell us that it was a 4-2 vote, with Scott Schulte absent.
Sivarajah, West, Look, and Braastad in favor. Kordiak and LeDoux opposed.
By The Anoka County Watchdog – Feb. 15th, 2013

Julie Braastad eager to begin term as Anoka County commissioner

By Kelly Johnson on January 2, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Julie Braastad is preparing for her newest endeavor – that of Anoka County District 2 commissioner.

She defeated incumbent Andy Westerberg in the Nov. 6 general election.

Braastad is currently serving her second four-year term on the Ham Lake City Council. Prior to that she served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for two years.

She was encouraged to consider running for city council and getting involved in local government by her husband’s uncle, the late Ken Braastad, who served on the Ham Lake City Council for a number of years.

“I just always thought it was so neat that he knew everyone in the city,” Braastad recalls about Ken.

With her daughters away at college, Braastad found herself with considerable time on her hands and decided to throw her hat into the ring when there was an open seat on the Ham Lake City Council.

“The first city council election was interesting and fun,” Braastad said.

Braastad did a lot of door knocking, visiting every house in the city, she said.

“It was such an excellent way to get to know people, and what they wanted and didn’t want,” Braastad said.

Her efforts proved successful as Braastad won the first of two elections to the city council.

During her tenure, Braastad recalls the council’s consideration of city sewer and water as one of the biggest issues and one that would fill the council chambers.

She said it is important to look forward while also balancing the needs of residents.

“It was obvious it was not a good time for that (city sewer and water) in our city,” Braastad said.

As for her decision to run for the Anoka County Board, Braastad said she was encouraged to seek the office by friends and others in the district.

“My initial response was I am happy doing what I’m doing in Ham Lake,” she said.

But after further consideration and discussions with her family, Braastad decided to give it a try.

She assembled a good support team to help her with her campaign.

As the only one of four candidates in the primary who did not have state-level elected office experience, Braastad used that as motivation in her campaigning.

“That just gave me incentive to get out and meet people,” she said.

The effort worked, with Braastad finishing some 300 votes behind Westerberg, the top finisher in the primary.

“I thought I really had a chance,” Braastad said about the primary election results.

“I campaigned every hour I had.”

The effort paid off, with Braastad defeating Westerberg by some 975 votes in the Nov. 6 general election.

“I was shocked. I was happy. I was elated to say the least,” Braastad said. “It didn’t quite seem real.”

Since then Braastad has been attending all the county board meetings she can rather than watching them online as she did during the campaign. She has also attended a work session for elected commissioners and orientation.

“A lot of it is similar but there are a lot of areas that I don’t govern in the city, like human services,” Braastad about making the transition from city to county government.

Health and human services is something Braastad describes as a “learning experience,” but one she is eager to take on.

“I want to actively spend some time in each department,” she said to give her a better understanding on how the county operates.

It is something she found helpful when she was first elected to the council, Braastad said.

“I think it is really important to understand what their day is like,” she said.

As for policy, Braastad said she plans to keep a tight rein on the budget.

The last couple of years the board has made some good strides in being more fiscally responsible, she said.

“There’s always room for more improvement,” Braastad said.

Braastad worked as a paralegal contracting with companies and also helped with her husband’s electrical business prior to beginning her campaign for county commissioner.

Now she plans to devote her time to serving her constituents.

“I am really going to dedicate 100 percent of my time to this county position,” Braastad said.

“It’s such an honor to serve a larger base.”

Braastad describes her election as county commissioner as “such a journey.”

Elective office is something she truly enjoys, Braastad said.

“You get the bug and you just love it,” she said. “There is nothing more rewarding.”

Braastad grew up in Columbia Heights, later moving to Coon Rapids and Oak Grove before settling in Ham Lake. She will be sworn in Jan. 8.


Kelly Johnson is at kelly.johnson@ecm-inc.com
abcnewspapers.com

Watchdog Calls Braastad “Rock Solid”

DISTRICT 2
This race featured two Republican candidates in Andy Westerberg and Julie Braastad.
And while both would have served the county well, it is undeniable that Braastad will be a more conservative voice on the board.
Most importantly, she will stand firm against the rail mania that gripped the county for too long.
Westerberg certainly helped create a conservative voting bloc, but his support of Northstar being extended to Saint Cloud was troubling to say the least.
Braastad will never support that.
Moreover, there were times when Westerberg leveraged his status as a swing vote, causing consternation for Sivarajah, West, and Look.
Braastad will be a rock solid vote in favor of the taxpayer. Count on it.
As for Westerberg, we sincerely thank him for his service. He supported some very good public policy, including reducing the property tax levy.
Andy did a very good job for the taxpayers.
But now it’s time for Braastad to assume her place on the board.
We know she will do a great job.

Opponent Supports Major Expansions

Dear Friends,

It has been a whirlwind since making it through the Primary Election on August 14th.  I am very humbled by the support I’ve been shown. Needless to say, I have been extremely busy campaigning but wanted to take a few moments to bring you up to date on a couple of things. Both my opponent (Andy Westerberg) & I attended a debate that was sponsored by the Ham Lake Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, October 16th.  This debate offered the best opportunity that I have had so far to state the differences between the two of us.  I will highlight a few of those differences here:
When asked if we supported an expansion of the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud?
I said NO, I would NOT support an expansion of the Northstar and actually believe we need to look at options of getting out of this boondoggle!
My opponent stated that YES, he does support the expansion of the Northstar.
When asked if we supported an expansion of the runway at the Anoka County Airport?
I said NO –  I would NOT support an expansion of the runway!
My opponent stated that YES, he does support an expansion of the runway.
When asked what our stance on Fiscal Disparities was?

I believe that it is a redistribution of monies which I don’t support and stated that it is an overly burdensome tax on commercial and industrial properties and would like to see the Fiscal Disparities program go away.

My opponent stated that he does support Fiscal Disparities and wants it to remain.

I was also able to bring up the fact that my opponent reduced that number of committees he was on from 2011-2012 because it interfered with the operations of his business. I stated that I would be willing to make the commissioner position my number one job priority.

If you are interested in viewing the debate you can CLICK HERE.

Please follow my campaign at www.JulieBraastad.com and on Facebook at Julie Braastad for Anoka County Commissioner.  My home number is 763-434-8985.  If you are not a resident of District 2, feel free to forward this to family and friends that are.  As always I would love to hear from you!

Thanks for your time & consideration!
Sincerely,
Julie Braastad

 

 

Familiar names in Anoka County board races

Familiar names in Anoka County board races
Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune

excerpt:
District 2
Andy Westerberg vs. Julie Braastad

Julie Braastad, a Ham Lake council member, says she feels the county board “is moving in the right direction.” But she says the county “must begin to aggressively decrease” its debt of $210 million. She wants commissioners to become more active as lobbyists and wants the county to “stop wasting money on losing efforts like the Northstar commuter rail.”

Braastad would like to see the county and its cities share assets — including equipment, services, even employees.

Among her proudest accomplishments: She says she stopped Met Council’s efforts to bring city sewer and water to Ham Lake, “which would have compromised the city’s financial stability.” She claims to have implemented a paperless process for City Council agenda items, saving expense and time. And she takes credit for bringing the reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to Ham Lake City Council meetings.

Incumbent Andy Westerberg has been on the County Board for less than two years. But he was a state legislator for eight years and also served on the Metropolitan Airports Commission and as a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commissioner.

He lists among his greatest accomplishments “an ability to work with people from all walks of life by listening to them and helping us find solutions to complicated problems.”

He considers himself a fiscal conservative, wanting to reduce spending and lower taxes. Public safety and transportation issues are among his priorities.

He wants the county to take “the direction that benefits everyone — moving forward without leaving some behind.”

“I enjoy the job,” he said of serving on the County Board. “I am happy with the accomplishments we have achieved.”

Northstar rail is a failed experiment

Northstar rail is a failed experiment
Article by: ANNETTE MEEKS
On Nov. 16, 2009, Minnesota’s first commuter-rail line began operating between Big Lake and Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. Transit advocates had high expectations when constructing the 40-mile line, at a cost to taxpayers of $317 million. It was expected that soon commuter rail would expand to St. Cloud and meet up with new ancillary lines, connecting rail commuters with Duluth and other places north of Anoka County.

Transit needs were and continue to be a very important issue in our seven-county metropolitan region. One of the strongest attributes of our existing and very well-run bus system is its flexibility, relative cost-efficiency and easy accessibility to millions of commuters throughout the metro area. High gas prices and a prolonged recession have made buses an affordable and appealing option for many, and ridership has seen a steady and sustained increase over the past decade. Yet difficult decisions are made every day by transit officials on how to stretch taxpayer dollars to provide the best and most efficient service for as many riders as possible.

Five years ago, I served as chairman of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee. I have to admit I was very skeptical about spending precious transit resources to test commuter rail in the Twin Cities. And now, after nearly three full years of Northstar service, it appears that the skeptics were right: Northstar has failed to meet ridership projections, even during its first full and widely promoted year of operation. Starting in 2010, Northstar Commuter Rail debuted with 183,000 fewer passengers than projected. I realize that no transit-rail line in the country comes close to covering its operating costs. But Northstar continues to defy even the most modest ridership expectations.

Rail proponents have blamed the poor ridership on just about everything as they attempt to justify operation of commuter rail, which continues to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in ridership subsidies every month. Since November 2009, the Metropolitan Council has blamed dismal ridership numbers on everything from high unemployment (2009) to relatively low gas prices (2010) to mild weather (2012) to improvements on U.S. Hwy. 10 (2010). Heck, they even blamed the hapless Minnesota Twins (2011) for failing to attract more riders.

On Aug. 1, the Metropolitan Council announced another marketing gimmick to entice potential passengers to hop on board. Transit officials cut fares in August by $1 per ticket at every station except Fridley (which saw a 50-cent reduction). This fare cut was on top of the decision in 2010 to not increase the temporary introductory Northstar fares as originally promised. These fare reductions only exacerbate the problems for taxpayers, who are already footing the bill for nearly 80 percent of every ride taken on Northstar. And, even with deep public subsidies and further fare reductions, riders continue to ignore the train.

It’s time to stop making excuses for this costly, failed rail experiment. Rather than hemorrhaging even more red ink each month and forcing taxpayers to further subsidize an underutilized service, the Metropolitan Council should take bold action to prevent further and deeper loses. I realize that labor agreements and other long-term federal funding commitments made by the Metropolitan Council mean that we can’t shutter the entire line. That’s too bad. However, other options would allow us to start mitigating our losses, which come at the expense of other transit options that serve a lot more citizens. So, instead of further slashing of fares on Northstar, offering free rides and other marketing gimmicks, we should stop weekend service on the rail line effective Nov. 1.

During difficult economic times, every government program must be measured by how many citizens it serves and the cost-effectiveness of providing these services. Northstar commuter rail has continuously failed to meet any objective measurement of success. But more important, the taxpayer subsidies necessary to fund this failed experiment deprive other more worthy transit options of much-needed capital. It’s time to start cutting our losses and move on.

Annette Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.