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Commentary: Make growth pay for itself

By whopping totals, 28,081 to 14,022 overall, a two-to-one margin, Prior Lake voters turned out on Nov. 8 and elected a new mayor, two new council members and a county commissioner. It was a mandate for change, belying recent city-sponsored opinion surveys that boasted high resident satisfaction with the status quo.

Not that it should have been a surprise, especially given the number of angry residents and business owners who’ve shown up at meetings protesting the closure of Main Avenue at County Road 21, the downtown development plan, the Arcadia extension and assorted other debacles involving the Rutgers and Pleasant street neighborhoods, Mushtown Road, Stemmer Ridge, Rolling Oaks, Boudin’s Bay and of course the public hearings challenging city spending and tax increases.

Incumbents worked hard and deserve our thanks for their years of service, but they weren’t listening and, unfortunately, put themselves in a bubble, pursuing policies that encourage development and all the unintended consequences that come with it. By their vote, residents expressed anxiety about Met Council 2040 visions and self-fulfilling long-range plans, along with the consultants and developers that promote and profit from them.

Like the folks in Lake Elmo, Prior Lake residents wanted a small-town feel. Incumbents wanted more subdivisions and convenience stores.

Nor was the vote about naysayers, or a tax protest. It was about accountability. Taxes are necessary to sustain government services and support current needs. Voters understand and support the need for them, but they want value and accountability in how their money is spent. Case in point, the traffic signal project at 150th and Highway 13 that morphed into a rebuilding of the roadway and a million-dollar-plus cost overrun, or the one block Arcadia extension, a road to nowhere and its million-dollar price tag, plus the millions spent on the Stemmer Ridge sewer extensions—not for current needs, but for future annexation and development.

Incumbents were in charge. The election held them accountable.

And what about the future?

Seventy-six million baby boomers are nearing the end of their working lives. In this decade alone, nearly as many people in Minnesota and the United States will turn age 65 as in the previous four decades combined. By the end of this decade, Minnesota will have as many people age 65 and older as children in the K-12 system. The 2020s will see even larger increases. A Minnesota state demographer’s report cautions that the coming years “will see Minnesota transform from a young state to an old state, from a work-based economy to a retirement-based, entitlement economy.” The same report projects slower economic growth and increased pressure on government revenues and expenses, especially increased health care and extended care costs.

Financial analysts recommend that people retire at age 65 with savings and investments equal to eight times their annual income, yet the median retirement account balance among retirees, today, is $14,500. Worse, the National Institute on Retirement Security calculates that two-thirds of households age 55-64 have savings equal to or less than their annual income, and a third have no savings at all.

Preparing for this change isn’t about prioritizing city spending for park benches or the emerald ash borer, it’s about controlling costs, keeping debt low and taxes affordable for all residents in Prior Lake. It’s about managing and controlling future development and the need for more infrastructure, schools and city services. It’s about shifting a greater share of the cost burden from current businesses and residents to developers and future projects through higher impact and permitting fees — and ending tax-increment financing. Finally, it’s about confronting the myth that growth and development pays for itself. It doesn’t, but it can, and it should. That’s the challenge for our new officials.

Please read more at the Prior Lake American: http://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-make-growth-pay-for-itself/article_6ccf0c0b-73cd-57e9-a862-a130fe2a3f5b.html

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com. (Editor’s note: Diers is a community columnist and not employed by, or paid by, the newspaper.)