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Posted on October 8, 2021 at 11:03 AM by Bryan Obenchain
It was nice to see a large crowd at the most recent City Council meeting. It means those residents are actively engaged in their local government, and attended the meeting to show support or opposition for a particular item.
Unfortunately, the level of productive participation in our municipal government process seems to be waning. Sure, there are occasions when City Council chambers are crowded, buy there seems to be fewer and fewer of those meetings in recent years.
Of course, not everyone is comfortable speaking publicly at a Council meeting. But there are other ways to let me or the other members of the Council know your feelings or opinions. We do receive phone calls, text messages, and emails from constituents about particular items, and we often meet concerned citizens in person to discuss issues. We appreciate the direct feedback, and I know I speak for everyone on the Council when I say we’d love to have even more interaction with members of the public.
Contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, for every member of the Council is available on the City of Minot website at www.minotnd.org. There’s also a public comment portal on the home page of the City website where you can send messages directly to members of the Council. We appreciate and value input from members of the community. It’s vital to how we perform the duties of our elected offices.
The City of Minot, with a host of other partners, recently conducted a study of the Broadway corridor. Part of that information-gathering process included virtual open houses and other opportunities for the public to comment on potential options for improvements along Broadway. Between two public input meetings, more than 2,200 unique participants offered opinions or comments, providing valuable feedback to the engineers and traffic engineers who will help design and implement improvements to the busiest stretch of road in our community. That’s the kind of public input we would love to have on every major project we undertake.
But too often, the level of public participation more closely resembles what we saw this year while we were crafting, tweaking, and approving the 2022 City of Minot budget. Over a number of months, City staff members and members of the Council created and approved a budget of approximately $175 million, including funding for the two largest infrastructure projects in Minot’s history. Unfortunately, there was little input from members of the public. Granted, the estimated property tax increase in the 2022 budget was barely noticeable, and that’s one part of the budget that often grabs everyone’s attention. But the budget is one of the most important things the Council and City employees do each year, and to have minimal interest from the public was disappointing.
City services impact the lives of everyone in our community in one way or another through police and fire protection, infrastructure like roads, water, and sewer, and services like trash removal, inspections, and community development. Not all the items included in the budget carry big price tags like flood control or the Northwest Area Water Supply project. Things like water or sewer rates impact the daily lives of community members, although their impact is much smaller. Yet they are important issues, and community feedback helps us determine the right choice to make.
As elected leaders, we bear the ultimate responsibility of making decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the entire community. Often, those decisions aren’t easy, and inevitably, not everyone will agree with the final outcomes. There isn’t always agreement among the seven Council members, either. That’s OK. There is always room for informed, civil debate and disagreement. In fact, productive discussion and disagreements must be part of the process if our local and state governments are going to continue to operate efficiently. Without proper public input, we’re making decisions based on what we think the community wants. It’s better for everyone if we can make decisions with as much input and information as possible, and we need public input and participation to make that happen.
There’s an upcoming opportunity to get involved with the state government. North Dakota legislators are expecting to hold a special session of the Legislature soon. Among the issues to be discussed is how to spend roughly $1 billion in federal funding North Dakota received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Surely, many state residents have opinions on how to best utilize those funds on infrastructure projects. Let your elected state legislators know your thoughts. You can find contact information for all state legislators at www.legis.nd.gov.
Sincerely, City Hall
You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.
Posted on September 22, 2021 at 1:08 PM by Bryan Obenchain
Creating a second high school in the Minot Public School District has been a topic of discussion for a number of years. In December, the community will have the opportunity to make a second high school become reality.
The Minot Public School District recently announced that it will hold a special election on Dec. 7 to ask voters to approve a bond issue to fund a new 9-12 high school, renovate Magic City Campus into a 9-12 facility, and turn Central Campus from a school for grades 9-10 into Minot’s third middle school for grades 6-8. The special election will be held at the Minot Municipal Auditorium; a 60 percent or greater majority is required to pass the issue.
Voters will see three questions on the ballot:
1: If they approve $84.4 million for the main project.
2: If they approve the first question, if they support an additional $24.2 million for a swimming pool and athletic complex at the new high school.
3: Ask voters to approve raising the debt ceiling to allow the district’s debt to be 10 percent of its assessed property value, up from the current 5 percent of assessed value.
When Minot voters supported a bond issue in 2014 to build John Hoeven Elementary and create additions at Perkett and Edison elementary schools, we knew those overdue changes were addressing only the first part of the overcrowding issues. School officials projected that the overcrowding issues would soon shift to the middle schools and high schools. Those predictions have come to fruition. Erik Ramstad Middle School is at or near capacity, Jim Hill Middle School is over capacity and is using numerous portable classrooms, and Central Campus is home to roughly 1,100 students in grades 9-10.
The needed changes to our public school district represent an investment in our students, teachers, staff, and our entire education system. A second high school and third middle school will help keep class sizes at appropriate levels. It will allow students and staff to better settle into productive routines for four years of high school, rather than attending two years at Central Campus and then two years at Magic City. It will allow teachers, staff, and students to build lasting and comfortable relationships. It will allow more extracurricular opportunities for students, from sports to art to theater to music.
Perhaps just as importantly, a second high school represents an investment in our entire community. A quality education system is vital to the continued success and growth of Minot. Businesses considering coming to Minot routinely ask about our education system, knowing that a good education system provides quality employees. When highly sought-after trained professionals, such as those in the medical field, are recruited by local businesses, one of their first questions is about our education system.
A great education system is also crucial to continuing and strengthening Minot’s relationship with the United States Air Force and the personnel who call Minot Air Force Base home. For members of the military families who have become our neighbors, friends, and co-workers, educational opportunities help ease the process of relocating to our community.
The City of Minot, Ward County, Minot Park District, and the Minot Public School District are separate entities, but all of us must take into consideration the financial needs of each other. The City of Minot recently approved a 2022 budget that included a nearly unnoticeable increase in our mill levy rate – a conscious decision by City staff members and the City Council to help the school district’s bond issue efforts.
We support Minot Public School District’s efforts to move our education system forward by adding a second high school and making other overdue changes and upgrades. Our students, staff, and teachers will be the biggest beneficiaries of these projects, but by no means are they the only ones whose lives will be improved. These changes are a commitment to providing a great educational experience with an abundance of opportunities for everyone.
As a community, we’ve made considerable commitments in recent years to help Minot evolve in its ever-changing role as a regional leader. Flood control. The Northwest Area Water Supply project. New parks and recreational opportunities. Upgraded and new facilities, including several at Minot State University. The school district’s project is an idea whose time has come, and represents another significant investment in ourselves.
Posted on September 9, 2021 at 11:15 AM by Bryan Obenchain
The 2022 City of Minot budget took a major step forward this week when the City Council approved the budget on first reading.
The budget approved by Council is approximately $175.271 million, a reduction of nearly two mills from the initial budget presented to Council by City Manager Harold Stewart in early August. Several Council members expressed a desire to keep the City’s mill levy as flat as possible for 2022, and I think this budget accomplishes that. The mill levy for 2021 was 121.29; the mill levy in the approved 2022 budget is 121.69.
The removal of nearly two mills from the first version of the budget presented to Council this year represents a reduction of more than $400,000. The changes were accomplished by cutting the number of requested new positions and making other changes.
We must keep in mind that property taxes account for just 15 percent (roughly $26 million) of the entire budget. The City’s portion of the estimated property tax statements residents recently received from Ward County was based on very early figures. Since then, we have reduced our budget, and any rise in the City’s portion of the property tax bill will be based almost entirely on increases in property value; the .4 mill increase will have a minimal, if any, effect on property taxes.
In creating our budget for 2022, we were purposely mindful of the upcoming funding needs of the Minot Public School District. It’s our role as a community partner to keep our property tax level as low as possible to lessen the overall tax burden on our residents. We have no control over the budgets created by Ward County, the Minot Park District, or the public school district. Each of us are separate entities, although we certainly must be cognizant of each other’s impending needs, especially when those needs are critical to the future of our overall community. Construction of a second high school will impact Minot in a number of ways. A strong education system helps our city recruit top quality professionals in all sectors of the workforce, and will be a benefit for the families of Air Force members when they move to our community.
I want to thank City staff members who, in essence, are always in budget mode. While it’s true that the budget creation and approval process runs from early spring to late September, City department heads are tasked with always being mindful of the budget. We expect them to keep a watchful eye on the budget all year, saving money whenever possible as we continue to be good stewards of public funds. In fact, we saved more than $2 million as an organization in 2021 through cost-cutting measures, which helped us when creating the 2022 budget.
I’d also like to thank everyone who provided input to members of the Council or City staff members. Public input is vital to running an effective municipal government. We received some comments via email, during personal visits, and on the phone. Crafting a City budget is a year-round process, and having community input helps guide our decisions. In the end, no budget is likely to please everyone. Still, there must be open discussion, give-and-take, compromise, and concessions from everyone involved, and we’ve accomplished that this year.
The annual budget must be approved at two readings; the second and final reading of the 2022 budget will take place at the City Council meeting on Sept. 20. Even though the 2022 budget isn’t officially approved yet, I know discussions regarding the 2023 budget have already taken place among City staff members, especially department heads. Each year’s budget is not an entirely separate process that results in a stand-alone budget; rather, the next few years of budgets are intertwined. Changes made to the 2022 budget will have an impact on the 2023 budget and beyond.
We believe we have crafted a budget that prioritizes our needs and maintains quality services for our community, and yet does not significantly impact the tax burden for our residents. The process is transparent – the proposed budget has been presented and discussed in open meetings, it has been publicly available for scrutiny for more than a month, and residents were repeatedly encouraged to share their opinions with us.
While we are in the final stages of completing the 2022 budget, we will soon turn our attention to what the budget for 2023 might look like.