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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Representative Fenton's Bill to Give Washington County Final Say Over it's City's Economic Development


Latest on Representative Fenton: 



Update: The bill passed

Cities of Washington County can look forward to being trampled by the County if they think their city shouldn't do as the County wishes. 

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"
"city" means county and "city council" means county board."these 9 words are in HF2820 / SF2520 that's currently backed by every legislator in Washington County to change the 233 pages that make up "Minnesota Statute, section 469: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT".

The authors of the bill Representative Kelly Fenton (R) district 53B and Senator Katie Sieben (D) district 54 did a great job presenting this as an innocent jobs promotion bill to update existing law. It flew through the House committee early March and it wasn't until March 18th did I realize this bill most likely has an underlying motive besides it's superficial claims.

On the surface HF2820 / SF2520 appears to be as the legislators claim. A bill that is "Reforming and Streamlining County Government" by granting "economic development" power to the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). It initially appears to be a good idea... why not let the County get involved with Economic development? However, I read the entire proposal and the original law... Nothing in the proposed changes to the law indicates this is anything but encroaching on cities.

"Economic development" as it's written in the law is currently granted to cities (469.091). Cities have the final say to bring in outside help (such as a county) (469.094). In fact, the current law explicitly protects cities with their own economic development power from an over reaching county:
469.1082:
"Any county that has granted economic development powers to a community development agency or a county housing and redevelopment authority under any of these provisions may not form a county economic development authority or grant a housing and redevelopment authority the powers specified in subdivision 4, clause (2)." (emphasis added)

Think... if this bill was such a great idea than: 
1.) Why is it only for Washington County?
2.) Why is it at this time? (two months after Lake Elmo kicks the Gateway Corridor out)
3.) Why hasn't it been done for any of the 87 counties in the 158 years that the MN legislature has been meeting? (1857 was the first convention)

It's clearly a plan to at the least duplicate the economic power city's have and as our first sentence points out it supplants it with the County. Republicans are supposed to be the party of eliminating red tape, duplicate services, and cutting taxes. So I sent this email on March 18th and received no response from legislators: "Every Republican Legislator in WC, what's with growing government with HF2820/SF2520?!Steve Ellenwood, who announced he's is going to run against Fenton for abandoning her conservative base, responded: 
"I stand with you Matt. Stop, we've had enough government intervention into our lives and pocket books!"


On Monday March 21st I testified for the Senate Committee on State and Local Government against the bill. My testimony had four reasons to not pass HF2820 / SF2520 through:
1.) It duplicates the power cities have to manage their own "economic development." At worst, city and county economic development powers may not agree and the conflict could end in the city being trampled. ie: if Washington County wanted to force them to accept high density housing or a transit corridor they just kicked out.
2.) Cities and to a greater extent: the private sector free market, is the best at identifying and providing economic development to a property (ie: store placement)
3.) Having followed every Washington County board meeting for the last 3 years I'm familiar with the workings of the HRA. The HRA board in WC is stacked with un-elected ideologues with no qualifications, perhaps good intentions, and the power over millions of tax dollars. Often the person appointed to the position for a given area by the County board is the only person to volunteer. With HF2820 / SF2520 they want to give this unaccountable board "Economic Development" power?!!!! yeah they have to get their budgets approved by the County Board... Mind you, this is the same county board that's tripled the county debt in the period of 8 years (and we're adding another 20 million this year):County Debt Tripled in the Last Seven Years, the Board Undeterred: Budget Passes
4.) Government "Economic development" if that's not essentially the power to redistribute wealth and pick winners and losers, I don't know what is... it's one thing to give local governments the "Housing and Redevelopment" power which is essentially subsidizing high density housing and empowering them to prepare blighted land for development... but it's a huge stretch to start granting counties economic development power to ... even for democrats. At least with cities that exceed the ability for businesses to survive the business can move the next city over, keep their employees, and survive.

Representative Fenton emailed back this response denying any ulterior motivation.... Yet she also happens to be the author of HF1617 to fund the Gateway Corridor that was just kicked out of Lake Elmo. It's not a stretch to claim that she needs this bill to give Washington County the power to tell Lake Elmo what's best for them.

Although Fenton is correct about the HRA maintaining their current power that's about the only thing she's correct on in her response. You will notice she doesn't back any of her statements with quotes from the law change proposal that is HF2820 / SF2520 or in the 233 page law it proposes to change: "Minnesota Statute, section 469: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT"

The rest of Fenton's statements are a mix of semantics with misinformation. Laughable is the comment about how she believes the private sector is what drives the economy since this bill gives the government more power to manipulate the private sector (through the HRA) and what the free market could do with property if the government could just leave well enough alone... 

Just ask Cottage Grove: 
They go through more big box stores than a teenager on black Friday. But that's their freedom, they elect city councilors that like to micro manage. In turn they attract businesses to their high tax, high red tape, area the only way they know how: By offering up short term candy with their economic development power (EDA)... only to watch them eventually flee: Home Depot, Famous Dave's, Rainbow Foods, the drive in movie theater (on and on)... Not mention the Epic failure their business center is:

But if Cottage Grove wants to have a $16 million dollar city hall, pay for a city run Golf Course, pay millions for a YMCA even though south Woodbury has one 5 minutes away... then they can keep reap the consequences of their strategy to bait stores to build there... while they keep leaving when the favoritism expires. 

Point is: Don't mess with the will of the citizens of Cottage Grove (or Lake Elmo, that is the opposite in that they keep things small town)

Fenton says "The proposed will compliment municipal economic development and not impede it." Compliment municipal power is an assumption... Sure a city and the county could have mutual goals to bring "fortune 500 companies" in. However, that's not true for cities like Lake Elmo who denied Cabella's their request to build there (so they went to woodbury).  Again, it's a tinder box for the County board to say their economic development ideas are better that a city like Cottage Grove or Lake Elmo's EDA wants.

another example:
Washington County offered an elderly 80+ year old man just $423,500 for his historic farmstead in prime Lake Elmo location. He refused so the County took him to court and took his land from him behind the City of Lake Elmo's back: 


There isn't a need to change the law to allow the County to help a city prosper. 
The County Just created their own EDA in 2015 in preparation for this. There was no need to do this and it cost tax payers $210,000. More in the years to come:

ie: 
Washington County is working very closely with Afton on their Main Street road project. Tailoring parking spaces, lighting, and everything to the individual needs of each block... they don't need a law to cooperate or advocate for the city. OR when it came to Washington County who helped Lake Elmo get the trucking company Valley Cartage lured in with a tax abatement deal (because taxes in St. Croix Wi are way lower)... the county didn't need Economic Development power to help:

Fenton says it "will NOT duplicate or replace work of cities and other public agencies." HF 2820 completely duplicates the cities economic development power! That's the whole point of the law.

Don't take my word for it, here's the proof in HF2820 / SF2520:
They change the language of the law to specifically undermine cities in Section 1 of the law change!:
"For purposes of applying Minnesota Statutes, sections 469.090 to 
469.1081, to Washington County, notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, section 469.090, 
subdivision 3, "city" means county and "city council" means county board." (emphasis added) It appears: Good bye "city" and "city council"!

Still don't believe me... here's how they change section 2 of the law:
"Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority 

Community Development Agency includes all of the area within the territorial boundaries 
of the county and includes the areas within the boundaries of every city in the county 
and the 
area areas of operation of city housing and redevelopment authorities 
and city economic development authorities 
in the county..." (emphasis added)... no language to say the cities have the last word.

Perhaps it's still not clear... Section 2a changes:
"Washington County Community Development Agency shall act and have exclusive jurisdiction for economic 
development, housing, or redevelopment duties in the statutory or home rule charter city or township" (emphasis added) if that doesn't say 'we own you cities' I don't know what else can convince you.

There's one tidbit to potentially give cities power and that's the final rule change... BUT... it's limited to "projects" so a great way to screw a city is to say it's not an economic development project... it's a transit project (pick your label). ie: foreign truck manufactures get around the truck import tax by shipping trucks in without their truck beds attached and claim they're not technically trucks. Political Semantics: Section 3 subdivision 2 
"the project must be authorized by resolution of the governing body of the statutory or home rule charter 
city or township with respect to each identified parcel of property" ... but remember the first change in the language of the law ""city" means county and "city council" means county board." So with clever quoting Fenton, and supporters, can claim that cities keep their rights while conveniently failing to mention that the law essentially erases the power of the city council by supplanting the County over City's rights. 

Lastly, and most importantly: 
She says "This bill follows the same process taken by CDAs established in Dakota, Scott, and Carver counties." Funny, because none of the 87 counties in MN find the need to change the law"Minnesota Statute, section 469: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTYes, I read all 233 pages of current law and nowhere in the law does it say anything about other counties getting special economic development power. In fact if you search for these other Counties their names don't even appear in all 233 pages of the law! 

Yes they can trample City rights with the proposal via the current law and it's VERY easy:

469.004 COUNTY AND MULTICOUNTY AUTHORITIES. subdivision 1: 
"No county authority shall transact any business or exercise any powers until the governing body of the county, by resolution, finds that there is need for a county authority to function in the county. The governing body shall consider the need for a county authority to function (1) on the governing body's own motion or (2) upon the filing of a petition signed by 25 qualified voters of the county asserting that there is need for a county authority to function in the county and requesting that the governing body so declare. The governing body shall adopt a resolution declaring that there is need for a county authority to function in the county if it makes the findings required in section 469.003, subdivision 1."

ie: the county can simply create a "motion" (a vote) and find 25 voters (might as well be zero) and simply decide what's best for any given city in WC.

The fact is this law does not need to be changed to do the things Fenton claims it will do for cities. Current law gives Counties all the power and freedom to work with cities that they need. The word "county" is mentioned 540 times in the law! Yet city is mentioned 1,370 times in the law... this points to the fact that the law should remain as is. That cities know what's best for themselves and Counties are not prevented from helping them. 

Why undo literally everything with these words 9 words in HF2820 / SF2520""city" means county and "city council" means county board."?

All the cities need to wake up to the motivation that is behind this law. HF2820 / SF2520 is an insult to every city, township, and municipality in Washington County and to the tax payers and voters of the cities.

Please tell you legislator to take their names off the bill:
Find out who your legislator is here: http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/

-Matt Behning



Surprise, surprise... still a month after 
Lake Elmo Kicks the Gateway Corridor 

out the Corridor planners are reporting to the county board they're still planning to roll through Lake Elmo.  No mention
of the boot they got the month prior.

How good it will be to have Fenton's Bill to tell Lake Elmo what's best for them?