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Local governments continue to serve (09/12/2010)
By John Edstrom

In the news this week, the Winona City Council voted, preliminarily, to increase the city levy by 4.6%, even in these hard times. Nay votes were cast only by Tim Breza and Deb Salyards. Breza, who is not running for reelection this fall, proposed a budget of no tax increase, to be balanced by cutting four city jobs, raising park and rec fees, and reducing city council and city manager salaries by 10%. (How is it that Tim’s judgment has become so astute just as he is about to leave office?)

Other council members, presumably intending to remain in public service, were not noticeably enthusiastic. Councilman Gerry Krage asserted that, “We’re cutting into muscle right now. All the fat’s gone.” Hopefully he is not licensed to do surgery, unaware, as he is, that the patient in question suffers from bloat.

Meanwhile, the county board, having recently got the religion of prudent and frugal governance, has proposed the second year of no property tax levy increase, with the ex-county administrator publicly ratting out the ex-county attorney for past sins of budgetary excess, even profligacy. These revelations are interesting and welcome, though a tad late.

Most amazing of all, however, is consideration by the city of embarking on yet another string and balloon annexation of land out in Wilson Township. The move is touted by City Manager Eric Sorensen as a help in developing jobs in this out state city, one which might surely garner financial support from the state which, after all, was “willing to support the Guthrie [Theater] in the Twin Cities to $25 million or $30 million.”

The extension of services out to the land in question would cost the city about $20 million, approximately, by coincidence, what the city recently spent to extend services to the Phillips development in Pleasant Valley. So far one lot has been sold there, a deal which, rumor has it, may have fallen through. Mr. Sorensen has not, to my knowledge, announced that the state has stepped up to help with that expense.

Though the Winona Area Industrial Association is prominent in the proposed annexation, which is just off I-90, the zoning of the property would allow for retail, hotel, and restaurant development. One wonders how such development, which would surely short-stop travelers miles outside of Winona, will encourage jobs here? One wonders, in fact, who will benefit at all from this expenditure by the city of another $20 million? Perhaps Mr. Sorensen, the wag, has bet some incredulous companion that he can get the City Council to go along with yet another such project despite the example of the first one.




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