Hasty consolidation will present challenge

Eight years ago, the city of Rogers and the town of Hassan agreed to slow combination of the two communities; as urbanization occurred, as urban services became available, as the market demanded and landowners requested, just not later than 2030. There was nothing magical about the 2030 date; it simply allowed time for prudent deliberations and the discovery of economic opportunities of a consolidated community.
Just five short years after the original agreement was made, the agreement was modified, consolidating Rogers and Hassan on Jan. 1, 2012. This decision was made in haste; it was made without a plan or process involving small compromises built on trust and competency that could be expanded upon to solve larger, more complicated issues. Eliminating one community is not a process that can be hurried, and consolidating two communities takes even longer. Most other similar attempts at reorganization and consolidation have failed because they have not gained sufficient public support and Hassan residents strongly resisted the poorly planned early consolidation.
All communities are not created equally. The obvious size/population differences aside, cities and towns differ in what they do — in the services for which they are financially responsible. This has nothing to do with whether a city or town chooses to contract out a service. It concerns financial responsibility: What is the service demand and what is the cost.
Recently, Rogers Council Member Jay Bunting wrote a defense of the Rogers tax, budgeting and public safety decisions. He also compared the legally entangled Rogers Police Department with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and contrasted his view of the desire for more tax revenue with decisions currently being debated by the Hassan Town Board. It appears Mr. Bunting’s opinion is shared by the rest of the council.
Over the past four years, Hassan residents sought to work with Rogers to create a vision that optimizes the economic potential of the combined community while leveraging the opportunity for redesigning the delivery of services to all residents. Those efforts were ignored. Just as unfortunate is the Rogers council appears only concerned with using Hassan’s tax capacity to backfill for the corporate welfare subsidy decisions that have made them the single highest ranked per capita municipality in the state for the use of tax increment financing.
Make no mistake, the combined community with Rogers’ current appetite for spending forces a one time 32 percent tax increase on Hassan residents and provides an 11 percent tax reduction to Rogers’ residents. It is simply impossible for anyone to claim that people in Rogers are paying taxes for folks in Hassan. In addition to this significant impact on Hassan residents, the Rogers financial plans include a 13 percent tax rate increase in 2013 for the combined community adding almost $2 million more in tax revenues. The police budget requires approximately $530 from every property in Rogers as compared to about $185 associated to each property in Hassan. Rogers has the fourth highest level of debt and the second highest total tax per capita of the 225 comparable cities in the state. Only 15 cities spend more on general government, only 18 charge more in special assessments and only 11 have higher charges for services than the city of Rogers. Interestingly, the city ranks 164th for roads, providing less than 12 percent of total annual expenditures for maintenance; and 201st for street and highway capital projects.
It’s not surprising that the Rogers council is displeased with Hassan residents passing a zero levy; it simply is not in alignment with a city whose council has quietly but consistently acquiesced to a tax-and-spend system in which the main feature is the absence of constraint.
Good local governance requires real leaders to set priorities across a broad spectrum of needs with coordinated, efficient delivery and the ability to adequately fund programs with revenues rationally tied to the service demand. Leadership takes a lot of work, and history will only look kindly on Rogers’ actions if its leaders develop a resolute and unflinching focus on good governance coupled with a deep sense of fiscal discipline. — Robin Sahr, Rogers