Future of Minnesota cities debated on Midmorning

Will cities provide fewer services in the coming years? Will property taxes double? Is the suburban model unsustainable?

Chuck Marohn, who heads a group called Strong Towns, along with Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, and Dave Peters, who will be familiar to readers of this blog as the editor of the Ground Level project, spent an hour with host Tom Weber on Midmorning today answering those questions and discussing the future of Minnesota’s cities. To hear the conversation, click here.

“We need to think big, but we need to think differently,” said Marohn.

Miller suggested that cities need more flexibility when it comes to raising revenue, especially in the face of reduced state aid, whether from local sales taxes or other sources. “The Minnesota miracle is eroded, if not on its last legs,” he said.

Peters noted that some cities, like Hutchinson, have indeed passed sales taxes in order to pay for infrastructure projects, as we’ve reported in our “Forced to Choose” series here.

While cities have survived austere times in the past, said Miller, what they’re facing presently is different. “What we’ve seen in the last decade is a structural change,” he said. Yet, the mechanisms cities have for dealing with the crisis is the same as they had 20 years ago. “We don’t have the solutions to match the problems going forward.”

Marohn suggested that cities have overbuilt their infrastructures and only solutions that change the way we look at roads, water treatment plants and home building will work. “Local government runs pretty efficiently,” he said. “We just don’t live very efficiently.”

He suggested loosening state regulations on cities in order to allow them to be more innovative. City services and structures tend to be homogenous, he said, with the same land use codes and benefits packages and so on. “When you have homogeneity across these different places, when things start to go bad they start to go bad everywhere.”

In the end, the fundamental questions we as citizens need to address, said Miller, are, “What do we really want? What is important to us as a community?” Once we know the answers to those questions, we can move forward and work on getting and paying for those priorities.

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