No I’m Not Filing For Council

Subtitle: A one word answer in 1361 words.  How typical of me.

No, I am not filing to run for council.  That may disappoint 7 or 8 people around town, but I think the world will keep spinning the correct direction.

I had been urged to run to focus discussion on our biggest issues.  I tried to do that last time, and the timing was right: streets and flooding.  This time the issues are a bit less cut and dried.

Issues this time?

Budget

Tully has been point man on this issue, and he won’t be on council next time around.  Staff will have to do more with less, or less with less, but there won’t be more money the next three years.  That’s going to require unpopular choices with staff, pay/benefits friction on any contracts up for renewal, and residents demanding (and owed) complete explanations for expenditures of all types.  And that’s where a guy like Tully comes in so handy; as the expainerer.

Throw in the potential conflict with school districts who should be looking for TIF relief now (instead of years from now) to help with their budget deficits and it’s a rough ride for sure.

Codes and Zoning

This is the issue that almost got me running again, and it’s the issue that is hard to explain and easy to knock down and make appear a negative.  We have committed to spending $75M to fix the worst of our flooding problems (TIC is about $125M we’re on the hook for over the next 20-30 years).  With only a couple exceptions centered on the south branch of St. Joe’s creek prior to Barth pond, we need to put the brakes on gold plating the flooding solution.  Not only can’t we afford it, the second and third tier solutions are expensive and of diminishing value.  We live in an area that is primarily lowland prairie and marshland that was tiled and drained or left as open pasture.  Now it’s DG, with much impermeable surface coverage, and that’s the way it is.  Spectacular weather events will always have the possibility of flooding, but with the work accomplished and planned mentioned above, residents exposure to a certainty of flooding has been drastically reduced.

For now.  For this moment in time only.

It is the construction and surface coverage that has caused the problems up to now, and paying to fix the problems built up to now does nothing to prevent the problems allowed to be built moving forward.  I for one decline to simply support rebuilding the same set of problems as we have over the last 30 years for the same reasons we built them before, so we have another $340 million (plus inflation) problem to solve just as we finally pay off this set.

The solutions so far advanced by Public Works show signs of acknowledging what I’m talking about; retention ponds and a new park/pond, all designed to partially blunt storm events.

Lower lot coverage percentages, facilitating permeable surfaces and techniques, allowing for water to be absorbed on site instead of shunted downstream, are all needed steps if we are to break the cycle of building problems back into the community. The unpopular part is that builders don’t make money building less, so it’s a tough sell to convince them water gardens, permeable concrete, lower percentage of building to lot size are all things they should be on board with.  Builders and realtors have considerable say in DG, and these things make their livelihoods harder to come by.  Highest and best use for the village benefit has to start to have weight.

So for me those are the two main issues.  I will be surprised if every candidate doesn’t at least pay lip service to the budget, but in a very general way that takes no stands or provides any concrete examples of what can be done-heck I’m not sure what can be done except shave shave shave wherever we can.  The codes and zoning issue will probably not be an issue at all in the election and that’s a shame because that has, potentially, the most impact on the future.  Think capital projects blowing out budgets.

So what will be issues?

Commuter Shuttle

Yes, probably buses again; be prepared for confusing and conflicting information on this.  After analyzing the costs and benefits (and credit resident taxpayer advocate Chad Walz for pointing the right direction on this volatile topic) my take is the buses will never break even, and we’re getting pulled into PACE so we may as well get used to it and figure out how using shuttles for reverse commuters and such can get us near a break even point.  Keep in mind, two years ago council voted to give the buses four years.  Do the math; there’s still two years left anyway, and by that time the circulator study will be done, and we will be committed to keeping them.  Try explaining that to a voter who doesn’t want buses anymore.  In the same vein, imagine in two years a mayoral or council candidate trying to decide which side of the fence to be on: 170 some bus users, or 17,000 some potential voters.  It’s easier to be against shuttles, and grumble about their continued existence (and expansion) all the while admitting it’s gotten past  the point of no return because of the PACE system locking us in.

Right now I don’t see how we can afford them.  One possible solution is PACE needs to step up with some money that makes it a wash on our budget.  We keep the gas tax and equalize the fares, PACE makes us whole financially.  That in itself is a crap shoot.

Civic Center

This was an item last cycle when we had the $$.  For the next three years we won’t have the $$, yet it weighs in as a notable line item moving forward.  I was against this last time around, and I give Police Chief Porter credit for changing my mind by giving me enough information about problems with the PD facility, but I also attended meetings on the topic, and was the only resident I know of that did.  Once you combine what the IT department says to the Tech Commission, what the staff says, what the department heads are telling council members (mainly Beckman and Schnell; they’re tasked to this live wire), the need becomes not readily apparant, but slightly less murky.

This topic (issue?  need?) deserves a good airing, but that hasn’t happened yet, while proceeding on spending big bucks on it has-to the tune of $400,ooo for planning in the ’09 budget.  There’s going to be some angry taxpayers grumbling about this unless an information campaign gets underway to explain the needs, show the problems (videos), get some feedback and legitimately listen and incorporate it, and outline possible solutions, with more feedback, and more listening, and so on.  A good TCD3 topic if there ever was one.

The other reason I have been peppered with “Are you going to run again?” is some people think having a commissioner willing to do his own homework is a good thing; that council relies too much on their weekly packets to shape their opinions.  Naturally I agree with that, but it burns up a lot of time.  Keep in mind, being on council burns up a lot of time all by itself not to mention the committees and commissions they liaise to, so cut some slack.  But it can get frustrating when there is no open minded discussion because of the lack of time.  After taking hours to read over staff supplied information, do they really have time to listen to someone that starts out with something like “Everything you’ve been told is wrong”?  Probably not.  From my own experience, it creates some conflict having sand thrown in the gears; they have a lot to do and not much time to do it in, and changing their course of action can be a task that, sometimes, causes friction.

Other issues for the upcoming council elections?  I have an idea or two, but if you’re astute you’ve heard them before, and I’ll save those for later.

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3 Responses to “No I’m Not Filing For Council”

  1. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Too bad, Thoman. First Tully and now you. I hope someone else steps forward to fill the explanation gap.

    PS: Cool snowflakes.

  2. John Schofield Says:

    Mark, the Village would be better off with you on the Council, period.

  3. Alien Says:

    But you’ll keep being the “expainerer” here right? LOL.

    Too bad now DG’ll prolly have to choose between this guy’s guy and that group’s guy instead of just a guy. Keep on keeping on, Mark.


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