(June 18, 2014—St. Paul, Minn.) City-administered initiatives converting previously unusable land into hunting grounds, involving residents in a facilities construction process, revitalizing aging housing stock, and engaging residents in the budget process were recognized today when the League of Minnesota Cities announced City of Excellence Award winners for 2014. The awards were presented today at the League’s Annual Conference in St. Cloud.
To compete for consideration as a City of Excellence, cities nominated a project, program, or initiative that was administered to achieve one or more of the following: improvement of the quality of a city service, development of an effective or innovative way to solve an old or common problem, modification of a program from another community or organization to fit city needs, discovery of a way to save the city money without compromising service results, and/or creative involvement of city staff or citizens in making a decision.
Winning entries were chosen in three population categories and in a special topical category. A description of each winning nomination follows.
Population under 5,000 City of Madelia—Younger Brothers State Wildlife Management Area In 2009, the city was required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to decommission approximately 40 acres of unusable land that previously existed as the city’s wastewater bio-solid storage lagoons. After receiving estimates from an engineering firm for the process of decommissioning the ponds, the city opted to instead hire local contractors and use the bio-solids removed as fertilizer for local farmers.
With long-term benefit to the community in mind, the city proceeded to build ramps for people with disabilities, and grade and seed the remaining land with natural prairie forbs and grass seed to promote habitat for pheasants, water fowl, and deer. This process led to the establishment of hunting land specifically designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, who are otherwise unable to use designated public land due to terrain that is often difficult to navigate. Partnering with other local organizations, the city began promoting itself as the “Pheasant Capital of Minnesota.”
Population 5,000 to 19,999 City of Medina—Engaging Residents in Cost-Effective Space Expansion In 2012, the city purchased a 69,000-square-foot office/warehouse and remodeled it for public works and police facilities a year later at a cost of $7.5 million. The function-designed building will accommodate both departments for up to 40 years, and free up space for administrative functions at City Hall. The project was a culmination of several years of research and collaboration involving city officials, city residents, and members of the business community.
In 2007, a facilities study concluded that the city would be best served by a $15 million rebuild of City Hall and a new police department on its existing site, as well as construction of a new public works facility. In 2011, two citizen focus groups reviewed the 2007 study and advocated addressing the most immediate needs of public works only. When the office/warehouse building became available, though, it opened up the perfect solution. It allowed the city to act on the focus group recommendation for a new public works facility, while also resolving its need for new space for police and administrative functions. And all that at only half the price of the original proposal.
Population 20,000+ City of Coon Rapids—Home for Generations II In 2013—building on the success of an earlier program—the city created Home for Generations II to encourage private major investment in single-family homes that would update and improve the city’s aging housing stock. Through funding from both the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and the Coon Rapids Mortgage Assistance Foundation, Phase II is structured to provide resources and financial incentives to homeowners who complete large remodeling projects.
To date, 65 homeowners have submitted applications for the program and 39 architectural consultations have been performed. Of those 39, 14 have signed their participation agreement with the city, and 12 of those have already completed construction. Home for Generations II has already generated more than $1.2 million worth of investment in the city’s housing stock for just $55,000 worth of incentive dollars. With several more homes planned for improvements, the city’s housing stock will experience a huge influx in private investment.
Topical category—Engaging Citizens in the Budget Process City of Eagan—Budget Connect Virtual Open House On Nov. 18, 2013, the city hosted a live virtual budget open house that aired simultaneously on Eagan Television (cable access) and the city’s website. Questions from residents were solicited both before and during the event via email, Facebook, text message, and person-on-the-street video interviews. Three distinct video segments supplemented the discussion by illustrating budget themes in fun and understandable terms.
Beyond the sparsely attended traditional Truth-in-Taxation budget hearing, the Budget Connect Virtual Open House increased transparency about how city tax dollars are spent, and allowed citizens to get involved from the comfort of their homes. The new format was a more focused use of city resources than previous in-person open houses. Budget Connect made the information about the city budget accessible while providing an expanded opportunity for taxpayers to be heard and have their questions answered by their city government.
About the judges The 2014 City of Excellence Award nominations were judged by a panel of past League of Minnesota Cities presidents, including: Karen Anderson, a former mayor from Minnetonka; Judy Johnson, a councilmember and former mayor from the City of Plymouth; and Marvin Johnson, mayor of the City of Independence.