Optimism rising for cities in 2011
by Bob Grawey
The 2011 State of the Cities was held Tuesday, Jan. 25 at the new St. Michael City Hall.
While cautious dread seems to have been the theme for municipal leaders in communities up and down Interstate 94 in 2010, that was not the case this year.
Cities were no longer looking to slash services or cut staff positions to make beleaguered budgets work.
Instead, many administrators and mayors from Hassan and Hanover to St. Michael and Otsego and everywhere in between laid out projects for 2011 they were already moving forward on or planning this year.
It was cautious optimism at best, though.
Otsego City Council Member Tom Darkenwald asked those present to raise their hand if they had seen their business pick up recently. Only a few raised their hand.
When asked who thought 2011 would pose challenges for businesses, approximately half of the audience raised a hand.
Darkenwald then asked who thought the economy had turned a corner and just a handful responded positively.
The Otsego council member told everyone his city was one of the most efficiently run cities in the state, and that Otsego was well poised for quality future growth.
He spoke of the natural assets of Highways 101 and 10, I-94 and the Mississippi and Crow rivers.
According to Darkenwald, if the I-94 communities work together under the I-94 coalition, it will give the region clout in solving the area’s transportation challenges. And that, he says, will make all the communities in the area more competitive in attracting positive commercial and residential growth.
Rogers city administrator Steve Stahmer spoke about his city’s 2010 achievements such as completing the 101 flyover and County Road 81 realignment projects and installing signals at South Diamond Lake Road and Rogers Drive. He also pointed out the city’s flat tax rate and continued work on annexation with Hassan.
Stahmer spoke of some of Rogers’ 2011 projects like the 129th Avenue and John Deere Lane extension as well as continuing to partner with Dayton toward a Brockton Lane interchange.
Hassan administrator Bill Craig told the audience about the 2010 Phase II annexation of Hassan properties into Rogers and how the township had just over 17 miles of town remaining. He also spoke of working closely with Rogers to make that annexation a smooth process.
But challenges for the dwindling township include operating the town on a flat levy that has been unchanged since 2007.
At the same time the township keeps losing tax base to keep up with its budgetary obligations.
As several city officials pointed out, though, it is a time when working together makes every community stronger and a more attractive commodity for future successes.
“I like to see the glass half full,” Otsego’s Darkenwald said.