Now into my fourth year as Mayor, I’m pleased to report Little Canada continues to make progress in a number of important areas. Once again, it is my honor to serve as your Mayor and to provide you with a “State of the City” report.
Before highlighting recent accomplishments and new opportunities, I want to commend Council Members Rick Montour, Mike McGraw, Christian Torkelson, and Tom Fischer for their commitment to our community. Little Canada’s elected officials have continued to work well together by focusing on the city’s best interests. While there is not always unanimous agreement, their professional approach enables the City to get things done versus dealing with infighting that cripples many cities today. I also want to thank City Staff for their day to day service to Little Canada. Our Planning Commission and Parks & Recreation Commissions also deserve our thanks for their dedicated service to the City. Last, but not least, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation for the volunteers of the Little Canada Fire Department, Little Canada Historical Society, the Canadian Days Committee, the Little Canada Recreation Association, and the Veterans Committee. Their tireless efforts on behalf of our community contribute greatly in making Little Canada a great place to live and work.
The following summary highlights some of the main issue and activities we have been addressing:
City finances continue to be a key area of emphasis for the City Council and staff. We continue to be in excellent financial condition as evidenced by our AA+ bond rating and financial reserves. In 2017, we received our second consecutive “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
In 2017, we decertified Tax Increment Financing District 3-2. This has a positive impact on our 2018 levy. While we certified an increase of 6.95%, the net effect due to the growth in our tax base because of the decertification was only 1.78%. That resulted in the City’s Ramsey County tax rate rank improving two spots (8th lowest to 6th lowest). It is important to note that the City’s tax levies have averaged about 3% per year for the last 15 years.
One other financial item of note was the payoff of the 2009 Housing Improvement Area bonds related to the Canabury Square renovation project. The City was able to use funds on hand to make the payoff of $1.2 million. By doing so, we essentially purchased an internal investment earning over 5% versus paying that amount to bondholders. It also now enables the CSCA owners to retire their assessments at any time, without penalty. This was not possible until this payoff because the bonds carried a higher interest rate due to their “private activity” status and the City was not able to reinvest payoff proceeds at a rate high enough to offset interest costs.
Our 2018 Goal Setting took place on January 31st. Terry Schwerm, the City Manager of Shoreview, facilitated the session. The following goals were adopted for 2018:
- Redevelopment - Develop a plan for the use of the remaining balances in TIF Districts 2-1 & 3-2; Consider exploring proactive options for targeted redevelopment areas; Review/study impacts to LC of buying land and holding sites for redevelopment versus buying at the time of development; Continue discussions on targeted redevelopment areas for inclusion in 2040 Comp Plan.
- Develop a plan to help Create a Little Canada Downtown.
- Parks – Complete Parks Master Plan and prioritize improvements for implementation; Create a policy on easement acquisition for trails; Replace Spooner Park playground; Review and develop a plan for increased parking at Spooner Park (i.e. NW corner)
- Public Safety – Work with Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department on critical incident response process and understand hiring/training practices; Develop a plan to provide info and context to Little Canada to keep us informed during critical incidents; Consider the creation of emergency communications plan.
- Create a Housing Rehab Loan Program by finding a service provider to partner with and take a broader look at preserving our aging housing stock/affordable housing.
- Conduct a Community Survey.
Action Plans have been prepared and were reviewed at a workshop meeting held on March 14th.
Redevelopment continues to be a key component of our economic development efforts. Hearth Development’s completed the 118 unit Cardigan Ridge senior project and the new retail development at the corner of Country Drive & Rice Street to accommodate Taco Johns and Subway. Tri-State Bobcat completed renovation of their new facility on Minnesota Avenue. Capitol View School, operated by the 916 School District, will open their new building this fall. Lastly, a new taqueria has been approved for construction at the former A & W site and Rice & South Owasso. The exact date construction will start is unknown at this time.
Major road improvements will continue to impact us in the future. The reconstruction of the Rice Street Bridge and 694 interchange will be bid in late 2018 with construction slated for 2019. This three roundabout system should greatly enhance traffic flow in this area. Planning is also underway at MnDot to add a 3rd lane to Highway 36 between 35W and 35E. Exact details are still unknown, but a project appears to be in our future. Staff is also working with Ramsey County to address needed work on Edgerton and County Road D.
Parks & Recreation saw the hiring of Bryce Shearen in April of 2017. He replaced long-time Parks & Recreation Director Jim Morelan. Bryce and the Parks & Recreation Commission have been busy in a number of areas including creating of a new seasonal dog park at the Demont rink, re-striping our four tennis courts to also accommodate pickle ball, adding Movies in the Park and Cookies with Santa, and extensive work on the Parks Master Plan being done as part of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan update. Bryce has also been directing our citizen engagement efforts by adding social media connections (Facebook and Nextdoor) and updating the City’s website.
Other items of interest include the following:
Dedicated second phase of Veterans Memorial on June 14th.
Installed solar panels on the Public Work garage to generate energy savings.
Expanded in-house planning capabilities. Jessica Jagoe was appointed as our Associate Planner. This gives the City more capabilities in-house on a day-to-day basis while also increasing accessibility for the public in need of planning services. An additional benefit is those needing routine planning services will be able to do at a lower cost than in the past.
Created an apprentice position in Public Works that will benefit the employee by providing on the job training. The City benefits by lower costs associated with the position and gains the opportunity to develop staff for our own needs.
The City is pursuing funding for pedestrian/bicycle bridges over I-35E and I-694 to provide better linkages within our community and to regional facilities in nearby areas. These bridges will be expensive and State assistance is needed to reconnect our community that was divided by the two interstate projects back in 1970.
A new Fire Truck will be arriving before the middle of 2018. It is replacing a pumper purchased in 1994. The cost of the truck itself is $636,786 and is being funded by our Fire Equipment Replacement fund that is comprised of tax levy dollars and contributions from the Little Canada Fire Department’s charitable gaming operation.
On the environmental front, the City Council will be considering a daytime sprinkling ban for the summer months to minimize water loss due to evaporation.
Little Canada is a community with a “small town” feel in the heart of the metro area. There is also a strong sense of community pride that contributes to making Little Canada a great place to live and work. I have been honored to serve as your Mayor this past three years and on behalf of the Council and Staff, I want to assure you we will continue to use our best efforts to make our community even stronger.