Sunday, October 28, 2012

Clarification to last post

The budget is a complete financial document, the Tax Levy is a piece of the overall budget. 

When setting budgets, the Council is guided by the tax levy and uses it as a decision making tool.   We use the tax levy amount to make measurements within the overall budget.  If something is changed in a different part of the budget, we always ask, "How does that affect the Tax Levy?"  We are committed to keeping the Tax Levy and the entire budget stable and sustainable. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wow!  Today was a great day of campaigning.  Thank you to all the citizens who have taken time out of their day to speak with me.  So heartwarming to know so many citizens are engaged and involved with the city, they know what is going on, they are informed voters.  Thanks so much to everyone for your support. 

I was asked questions about my opponent’s newest campaign literature.  Here’s my response:

Crystal’s Property Taxes during the past 7 years were stable even though times were uncertain and unstable.   Have property taxes gone up, yes, but so has the price of gas and health care, both of which the City purchases. 

The Council spends about 7 months deconstructing and reconstructing the budget looking for ways to save money while providing expected services.  The Council’s goal is to maintain property taxes paid by citizens and look for cost savings.  Over time, we need to keep taxes stable and sustainable to preserve our neighborhoods and our property values. 
For example, the 2012 tax levy was cut by 2.07 percent, which was the good news.  The bad news happened when the state eliminated the Market Value Homestead Credit (MVHC).  The impact of this action was to increase our -2.07 percent budget-cut to zero and some of our home owners saw an increase of up to 4 percent.  This demonstrates that sometimes, regardless of what the Council does or does not do with the budget, we are financially impacted by outside entities. 

Regarding the General Bonded Debt referenced in my opponent’s literature:  If you read the 2012 Budget Report on page 138/209 (pdf version) you will find the following:

“The City of Crystal has been rated by Moody’s Investor Services each time it (the city) issued a bond.  The most recent rating was in 2011 and was an Aa2 rating.  The Aa2 rating reflects the City’s mature tax base located in the Twin Cities, healthy financial operations, and modest debt levels with rapid principal repayment.”
Moody’s Aa2 rating is the highest rating given to a city with our tax capacity. 
The City is at the top of the ratings and financially healthy.  However, there is no room for extravagances and we must ALWAYS find ways to do what we do for less.  I assure you Crystal’s finances are stable and sustainable and we (the Council and staff) plan to keep Crystal financially healthy.
I don’t have the space here to explain the financial details of the City of Crystal but I know where you can find the information, please go to the City of Crystal’s website www.ci.crystal.mn.us//  -  on the home page, and click on City Departments (located in the left side navigation bars).  Click on Finance Department and at the Finance Department’s page, under “Quick Links, click 2012 Budget Report, pages 1 - 6.  This section provides the details of the impact of the loss of the MVHC. 

One can find additional reports that I suggest you read the complete financial story about the financial health of your city, these include the 2011 Financial Report, 2012 Budget Report and the 2013 Budget FAQ.  I suggest you read these reports to see the numbers and the narritives within the context of the complete budget. 
I am proud of the work done by myself and the Crystal council.  Vote for me on November 6th to maintain your city’s financial health.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Local TV Ad comments

Greetings!!
Some may wonder why I put the local TV ad for my challenger on my blog (along with my own ad).  I believe that citizens should be informed.  My challenger states that he does not like the direction the city is going.  Yet, according to our recent Citizen Survey, citizens demonstrate they support the direction the city has gone.  Many citizens like our small,  town feel with our access to urban amenities.  As I have campaigned, I have discovered there are no issues communicated by the citizens.  People are happy and I am proud I had a part in that

My challenger laments on the issue of taxes in our city, my challenger lies when he talks about the tax rate.  I hate a liar, I have never lied to get elected.  My belief is that if a candidate is willing to lie to get elected, what will they be willing to lie about after they are elected.  I have proof to back up my statements, can my challenger prove his statements? 

We have had small tax increases, but we have not had large spikes like many other cities, nor are we growing government.  As a city we do not deficit spend, our budgets are always balanced.  Our city not only looks healthy, it is financially healthy and city staff continues to provide services citizens rely on and expect.   Our property values are preserved and in fact values are increasing.  A home that sold for $103,000 a year ago, sells for $137,000 today, Crystal houses do not linger in the market.  If the city is going in the wrong direction, why is our housing stock so strong?

I have a demonstrated track record of serving individual citizens, not special interest groups.  Budgets must be transparent and if they are not, changes must be made to make them transparent.  Hundreds of Crystal citizens know first hand that I am available to answer questions, help solve issues and tirelessly work as an advocate for their rights as citizens.  Thousands know I am the best candidate for the job.

Vote for ReNae Bowman on November 6th, a candidate with a positive, proven track record of citizen service and respect. 







Sunday, October 7, 2012

What a glorious weekend!!  Such a great time to be campaigning.  First of all I really want to thank all who are supporting me during my re-election campaign.  It is so heart warming to be greeted with hugs and statements of, "of course I am voting for you".  Of the hundreds of people I have been in contact with during the past couple of weeks, I have learned that most of the citizens believe the city is doing well and life is good in Crystal and that the council has the city on the right track. 

I spoke with a young man who very recently purchased a home in Crystal.  I asked him where he was from and what motivated him to purchase in Crystal.  He said that was from St. Louis Park and when he began to look for a home, in the end he found that Crystal has the "best bang for his buck".  He said that he was able to buy much better house here for the price and that he LOVES this city. 

When I ask citizens about any current problems or issues I am being told there are no problems or issues.  I do however remind citizens that I cannot fix problems if I don't know about an issue and it is important to stay in touch with me or their council representatives. 

Citizens agree that we have not had  tax spikes during our recent bad economic times and that stable taxes are important to our citizens.  We have seen tax increases, but citizens know that it takes people to provide services and people need to be paid.  City  employees had wages frozen for  a 2 year period.  I want to thank the Crystal staff for their patience during tough times.  We have given some small wage increases (the price of gas and milk alone is a budget breaker for most families) and that has helped us to maintain our stable tax structure. 

Thanks again to all the citizens for their support.  I am looking forward to another 4 years of service to this wonderful community!!!!   Let's keep the momentum going!!  Let's make sure the city of Crystal remains a great place to live, work and play!!  Look for me as I campaign!!  Let me know what you love most about our great city!!!!  Thanks for your support!!!!
ReNae

Monday, September 3, 2012

Citizen Survey Executive Summary

Decision Resources, Ltd.
July, 2012
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2012 City of Crystal

City Demographics:
Crystal continues to evolve into a generally mature second-ring suburban community. The
median longevity of adult residents is 20.0 years, up 1.6 years since the 2007 study. Twelve
percent of the sample report moving to the city during the past five years, while 30% were there
for over three decades. Crystal primarily drew residents from two areas: Minneapolis, at 34%,
and neighboring Hennepin County suburbs, at 31%. Moreover, 80% of the sample either have
no plans to ever move or intend to stay for at least the next decade.

The average household in Crystal contains 2.4 residents. Thirty-two percent are completely
composed of residents over the age of 55 years old. Thirty-four percent of the households
contain school-aged children or pre-schoolers. Seventy-five percent own their current homes,
with the median current property value at $194,000.00. The typical resident spends about 20.8%
of their pre-tax monthly household income on either rent or mortgage payments.

The average age of respondents is 49.3 years old, a 5.4 year increase from the 2007 level. Thirty-
eight percent of the sample fall into the over 55 years age range, while 17% are less than 35 years
old. Twenty-seven percent graduated high school or had less education, while another 40%
report graduating or undertaking post-graduate course work.
Women outnumber men by four percent in the sample. The Ward of residence of each
respondent was noted: Wards One and Two each contain 26% of the sample; Ward Three, 25%;
and Ward Four contains 24% of the sample.

Quality of Life Issues:
Ninety-one percent rate their quality of life as either “excellent” or “good.” In fact, 26% deem it
“excellent,” a seven percent increase from the 2007 findings. Nine percent rate the quality of life
lower.

At 26%, “location” leads the list of attributes people liked most about living in the community.
“Strong neighborhoods/good housing stock” is second, at 18%, followed by “small town feel,” at
13%. “Friendly people” rounds out the list, at 10%. The most serious issues facing the city are
“high taxes,” at 21%, and “rising crime,” 15%. A “booster” group of 25%, almost twice as high
as the 2007 level, says there are “no” serious issues facing the community; the size of the booster
group in Crystal is over four times higher than the norm for a Metropolitan Area suburb.
Eighty-three percent of the sample report the general sense of community in the City of Crystal
was “excellent” or “good,” maintaining the very high rating from the 2007 study. This
percentage is well above the norm for Metropolitan Area suburban communities.

Property Taxes:
Crystal residents are more fiscally conservative in this study than they were in the 2007 survey.
Forty-four percent think their property taxes are “high” in comparison with neighboring suburban
communities, while 43% see them as “about average.” Residents would oppose, by a 53%-31%
majority, a tax increase to maintain city services at their present levels.
Eighty-one percent of the
residents view city services as either an “excellent” or a “good” value for the property taxes
paid; this value level reflects a 16% increase since the 2007 study.

City Services:
In evaluating specific city services, the mean approval rating is 82.6%, a comparatively high
rating, and a 4.5% increase from the 2007 mean.
Over 90% rate “fire services” and “police
services” highly. Between 80% and 90% favorably rate “quality of drinking water,” “snow and
ice removal on city streets,” “condition and maintenance of parks, recreation facilities and trails,”
“animal control programs,” and “city recreational programs and services for children, adults and
seniors.” Remaining services receive positive ratings between 70% and 79%: “maintenance and
repair of city streets,” “response to code violations, such as housing maintenance, motor vehicle
parking, and long grass,” “building inspection and obtaining permits,” and “elimination of
blighted properties.” If only citizens providing a rating are considered, the mean positive rating
for city services is a very high 88.4%.


In 2007, the typical Crystal resident would support a property tax increase of $4.60 per year for
the preservation and improvement of water quality and storm water management in the city; but,
45% would support no tax increase for this purpose. This year, a 53% majority would support no
utility bill increase for this purpose.


In rating the importance of city services, two were considered “essential” by over 75% of the
residents: “fire service,” at 83%, and “police service,” at 79%. Between 50% and 55% view
three services as “essential:” “quality of drinking water,” at 54%; “snow and ice removal on city
streets,” at 53%; and, “maintenance and repair of city streets,” at 52%. Twenty-one percent rate
“animal control programs” as “essential,” and 20% feel similarly about “elimination of blighted
properties.” Less than 20% call four services “essential:” “response to code violations, such as
housing maintenance, motor vehicle parking, and long grass,” at 17%; “building inspection and
obtaining permits,” at 16%; and, both “condition and maintenance of parks, recreation facilities
and trails” and “city recreational programs and services for children, adults and seniors” at 15%.

Majorities of over 85% would “maintain funding at current levels” of each of the 11 city services
discussed so far. In no case did more than 10% of the residents support “cutting funding from
current levels” or “service elimination.” Similarly, three services registered modest support for a
“funding increase:” “police services,” at 14%; “fire services,” at 11%; and “maintenance and
repair of city streets,” at 11%.


Neighborhoods and Housing:
Ninety-one percent rate the general appearance of their neighborhood as either “excellent” or
“good;” but, 10% are more critical in their evaluations. Seventy-eight percent report the general
appearance of their neighborhood stayed “about the same” during the past two years. Twelve
percent report an “improvement,” while nine percent see a “decline.” “Rundown houses,”
“messy yards,” “junk in yards,” and “home foreclosures” are the primary causes of low ratings.
Eighty-two percent feel at least “somewhat connected” to other people living in their
neighborhood; but, 19% report feeling “disconnected” from their neighbors.

Seventy-three percent, up 16% in five years, feel the housing maintenance codes requiring the
annual inspection and licensing of rental property are at least “somewhat effective” in
maintaining the condition of this type of housing. Similarly, 60% feel the mandated point-of-sale
inspection of owner-occupied housing a “positive” difference on the condition of that housing in
the city. By a solid 86%-4% margin, residents favor expanding by offering incentives for
residential property improvements. And, by a solid 90%-2% margin, residents favor the city
purchasing deteriorating and blighted properties for redevelopment. Overall, 73% think the City
of Crystal is doing “enough” in providing residents and business owners opportunities to
maintain and improve the appearance of their properties.

City Government and Staff:
Forty-nine percent think they know “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the work of the Mayor
and City Council, an 11% increase in five years. Respondents give the Mayor and Council a job
approval rating of 82%, a 23% increase in five years, and a disapproval rating of 10%.
The
increase of 23% in the approval rating since 2007 is particularly impressive. The eight-to-one
approval-to-disapproval rating of the Mayor and City Council is among the top ratings in the
Metropolitan Area suburbs
. Positive ratings are based upon generalized feelings about their
“good job” and the perception of “no problems.” Criticism of the Mayor and City Council is also
based upon two factors: “not listening” and “issue differences.”

Citizen empowerment is at a moderately high level. An average number of residents — 31% —
feel they could not have a say about the way the City of Crystal runs things, if they want. Most
communities score between 25% and 40% on this query. But, that number reflects a decrease of
seven percent since the 2007 study.
Overall, though, the ability to influence decision-makers is
not a major issue.


Residents award the City Staff a job approval rating of 82% and a disapproval rating of 11%,
reflecting an increase of an uniquely high 28% in favorable evaluations
. Both the absolute level
of approval and the nearly eight-to-one ratio of approval-to-disapproval are well above the
Metropolitan Area suburban norm. The 45% of the residents reporting first-hand contact with
the staff is almost one-third higher when compared with other suburban areas. The approval
ratings of staff are primarily based on actual positive experiences with them; the more negative
ratings are associated with a perceived “lack of listening.”

Twenty-seven percent of the sample contacted a City of Crystal facility during the past twelve
months. Most of the contacts involved the Police Department, Building and Housing Inspection,
Public Works and Engineering, and the Information Desk. The contacts generally revolve around
a request for general information, reporting something, or registering a complaint. On six aspects
of customer service, staff members are rated as either “excellent” or “good” by at least 92% of
those who contacted City Hall: “courtesy of the Information Desk receptionist,” “efficiency of
the Information Desk receptionist,” “waiting time for service,” “ease of reaching a department
staff member who could help them,” “efficiency of the department staff,” and “courtesy of the
department staff.” In general, residents are extremely satisfied with their contacts with City
facilities.


Garbage Hauling:
By a 52%-35% margin, residents oppose changing from the current garbage hauling system, in
which residents may choose from several different haulers, to a system where the City chooses
one or more haulers for the whole community. Supporters of the current system base their
decisions on “liking current hauler,” “lower cost,” and “like choice.” Supporters of city
designation base their decision on “less truck traffic” and “less damage to roads”

Public Safety:
Thirty-four percent of the respondents were involved in or observed a situation in which the
Crystal Police Department was present; contact for 32% of this group occurred at a public or
awards ceremony. Among those having contact, 32% report it was for “emergency services;”
24%, for “public service information;” and 21% say is was for a “traffic violation.” Ten percent
report the contact was at a public ceremonial event. Among these observers and/or participants,
92% think the way the Police handled the situation was either “excellent” or “good,” while 92%
report the Police responded promptly. Ninety-one percent feel the Police Department personnel
were courteous and acted in a professional manner.

Usage of various prevention services provided by the Crystal Police Department is still relatively
low. Awareness of the programs, however, is consistently high. Thirty-four percent are
members of Neighborhood Watch, seven percent less than the 2007 level. Nine percent
underwent a home safety survey. DARE was used by 17% of the households, generally by those
households containing school-aged children. And, 17% also used traffic enforcement services.
In rating the seriousness of public safety concerns in the City of Crystal, 45% feel domestic abuse
is either a “very serious problem” or “somewhat serious problem.” Fifty-one percent rate violent
street crime, such as robbery and assault, as at least a “somewhat serious problem,” reflecting a
ten percent increase in five years. Seventy-one percent similarly rate alcohol and drug abuse; this
represents a 13% increase during the past five years. Twenty-eight percent rate child neglect and
abuse as either a “very serious problem” or “somewhat serious problem,” while 21% feel the
same about senior neglect and abuse.

Sixty-nine percent feel safe walking alone at night in their neighborhood. In considering the
entire city, city parks are targeted by eight percent as areas where residents would feel unsafe
walking alone at night.

Thirteen percent of the sample report being involved in or observing a situation where the West
Metro Fire/Rescue District was present; within this group, 39% state this involved fire services,
while 52% report it involved rescue or medical services. Thirty-one percent report the situation
took place at a public ceremonial event or awards ceremony. Ninety-nine percent give the West
Metro Fire/Rescue District high grades for the way the situation was handled, and 92% feel they
responded promptly. Ninety-six percent also report the District personnel were courteous and
acted in a professional manner. Ninety-one percent have a working carbon monoxide detector in
their homes, up six percent from the 2007 level..
Parks and Recreation:

Residents rely principally upon the City Newsletter/Recreation Program brochure and the “Sun
Post” newspaper for their information about park and recreation facilities and programs in the
City of Crystal. Fifty-nine percent rely upon the former, while 23% use the latter. Only five
percent report they have no source of information about these types of topics. Sixty-six percent
report visiting a Crystal park or recreation facility, weather permitting, at least “several times
each year.” In fact, 35% do so “once a week or more.” The most popular destinations are
Bassett Creek Park, Becker Park, Lions Park, their neighborhood park, and the Community
Center.

The most important current park and recreational facility is “walking trails and pathways,”
chosen by 41%. Next, in order, is “nature areas,” at 32%. Twenty-five percent cite the “Crystal
Community Center,” and 22% say “playground equipment.” Nineteen percent prefer the
“community garden,” and 15% favor “picnic areas.”

Thirty-eight percent consider “community events” to be the most important recreational
opportunity for their household. Twenty-five percent point to “youth sports or programs,” and
20%, to “teen sports or programs.” Eighteen percent view “senior programs” the same way,
while 17% each say “programs or open swimming at the swimming pool” or “outdoor concerts.”
Ninety-five percent of the residents are satisfied with the current mix of recreational
opportunities. Twenty-five percent participate in city-sponsored recreational programs during the
past year. Ninety-eight percent place a high value on these offerings, while only two percent rate
them lower. Satisfaction is unanimous. The 72% of the community who did not participate
point to already “busy lifestyles,” “lack of interest,” and “advanced age or deteriorating health”
as their major reasons. In general, then, both programming and facilities are well-regarded.
Thirty-four percent of the sample report regularly leaving the City of Crystal to pursue
recreational activities. This level of “recreational leakage” is at the Metropolitan Area suburban
norm. Residents are most apt to leave the community in search of “lakes for boating” and
“trails.”

Communications Issues:
The City Newsletter/Recreation Brochure is the most often indicated primary source of
information about community events in Crystal, at 47%. The “Sun Post” newspaper follows at
35%. The “Sun Post” and the City Newsletter are even closer as the primary sources of
information about City government and its activities, at 40% and 32%, respectively. City
mailings are also mentioned as a source of this type of information, by 17%. Eighty-eight
percent receive the “Crystal City Newsletter,” while 81% regularly read it. Both the newsletter’s
content and clarity, as well as its format and readability, are nearly unanimously praised.
Similarly, almost all readers view the publication as effective in keeping them informed about
activities in the community.

Sixty percent of the respondents subscribe to cable television. Thirty-four percent of the
subscribers at least “occasionally” watch City Council telecasts on Channel 16; this audience size
is nine percent higher than it was in 2007.

Internet use is also assessed thoroughly in this study. Seventy-seven percent of the households in
the community have access to the Internet, a 16% increase during the past five years. Among
those on-line households, 56% report accessing the city’s website, usually browsing, looking for
general information, or looking for park and recreation information. Ninety-seven percent of
those searching for information were able to find it, and 95% report the website is easy to
navigate. Seventy-seven percent are aware they can register for recreation classes or apply for a
building permit on the City’s website; thirty percent have actually done so. Twenty-eight percent
of the residents of the community would like to see more “general information” on the website;
ten percent want “more parks and recreation information,” and nine percent, “more community
events information.” Only seven percent have watched a City Council meeting on the City’s
website.

With the exception of Facebook, social media usage among Crystal residents is limited. Ten
percent listen to podcasts, fourteen percent read blogs, and 18% tweet. A much larger 47%
access Facebook. Similarly, the one social medium which could be used effectively by the City
of Crystal to communicate with residents is Facebook; thirty-three percent of city residents
indicated their likelihood to communicate with the City this way.

Conclusions:
In general, Crystal citizens are very satisfied with their community, and improved evaluations are
evident in this study when compared with the 2007 study. The key issues facing decision-makers
in the future are addressing perceptions about “high taxes” and “rising crime.” Secondarily,
residential property maintenance, particularly focusing on the City continuing to purchase
deteriorating and blighted properties for redevelopment.

The long term issue found in the 1997 and 2007 studies has significantly changed: the chasm of
disconnection between residents and the City. Information levels about City Government
activities and positive perceptions of the Mayor and City Council have increased markedly
during the ten year interim between the 1997 and 2007 studies
. Accompanying this turnaround
is the increased reliance on and favorable ratings of the City Newsletter/Recreation Brochure.
Any efforts the City makes in continuing and upgrading communications with residents will
serve the community well. More citizens now are content and continue to view their City, its
government, and its services in a very positive light. With the “City Booster” percentage at 25%,
or four times the suburban norm, a large reservoir of goodwill has been established; this will
serve decision-makers, in particular, very well as new issues are encountered and relatively
difficult decision must be made.

Methodology:
This study contains the results of a telephone survey of 400 randomly selected residents of the
City of Crystal. Survey responses were gathered by professional interviewers across the
community between May 4th and 24 , 2012. The average interview took 31 minutes. All
respondents interviewed in this study were part of a randomly generated sample of adult residents
of the City of Crystal. In general, random samples such as this yield results projectable to their
respective universe within ± 4.0 percent in 95 out of 100 cases.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Candidate Forum: Opening & Closing Statements

Candidate forum tonight, below are my opening and closing statements, let me know what you think!  Thanks to all of my supporters!!!

Two minute opening
Thank you to the league of Women voters for sponsoring this forum.  Thank you to citizens for taking this time to listen and learn before casting your vote on August 14. 

I am ReNae Bowman.  I am running for re-election as your mayor and tonight I reapply for the job by asking for your vote.  Why ReNae Bowman; because I have a proven track record of leading concrete positive changes for Crystal citizens.  Through the work I have completed, I believe I have earned your vote.

According to the citizen survey, under my leadership, the quality of life in Crystal has improved as well as a sense of citizen empowerment. 

More evidence of my leadership is strong city finances; I bring to the council table experienced and best-practices based financial management skills.  Crystal’s budget is stable even during these unstable times.  At a time when property values plummeted; citizens did not see double digit city property tax increases.   
Further proof of financial strength, Crystal paid cash, $1,000,000 for our portion of the West Metro fire trucks.   We knew the expense was coming; we budgeted and saved to avoid debt service fees and interest. 

Crystal does not deficit spend.  Bond debt is usually limited to things like the pool reconstruction (approved by citizen vote) and to finance the citizen portion of street assessments; we do not borrow or bond for trucks and plows, or other operational expenses. 

My opponents tonight will try to make the case that the sky is falling and evil lurks behind each corner.  Unfortunately, their statements are used in an attempt to foster the notion that proven qualifications do not count, but they do. 

Tonight's questions and answers will provide concrete evidence of my qualifications and abilities to continue to serve as your mayor.   One more thing, I love this job, I thank you for the honor of serving you during these past 8 years and I look forward to serving you for 4 more years. 

One minute close
Eight years ago I was elected to represent you; I listened then demonstrated I am a catalyst for positive community change.   During the next 4 years I remain committed to my core value, including:  
  •  of the citizen, by the citizen and for the citizen, your voice at city hall
  •  peaceful and prosperous neighborhoods
  • the human rights of all of citizens and as
  • a positive steward of our environment 
My opponents speak of financial issues but recently demonstrated their lack of commitment toward the review and approval of our annual budget, the council’s most important job.  Neither opponent attended the first 2013 budget session on Tuesday, July 31. 

How deep is the commitment if one does not attend the most important business meeting of the year?  If they are not committed to budget work, can claims of commitment be true, or just words.  

Please vote for me, ReNae Bowman on August 14.  I am the committed candidate ready to continue on with the important work of keeping Crystal a great place to live, work and play.  Vote for me ReNae Bowman