Betsey Buckheit - 2012 Northfield City Council Candidate (At Large)

Betsey Buckheit

Betsey Buckheit (email: betsey@betseybuckheit.com, website: betseybuckheit.com) is a candidate for Northfield City Council, At Large. Betsey's responses to questions prepared by Northfield Citizens Online in cooperation with the League of Women Voters Northfield - Cannon Falls are presented below:

Candidate information

Since 2008, I’ve represented the 2nd Ward. Redistricting put my house in the 4th Ward, so I’m delighted to be running at large to serve the entire community and continue the Council’s initiatives for longer-term budgeting, addressing deferred maintenance, and policy for a strong, sustainable Northfield.

Northfield’s Comprehensive Plan, Comprehensive Economic Development Plan, GreenStep Cities action steps all provide good policy direction for a sustainable city; we need to use these tools consistently to prioritize projects and anticipate expenses. We should continue to foster partnerships with our colleges, businesses, townships and county to share ideas, avoid duplication, and maximize resources. I believe continuity on the Council is critical to continuing this forward thinking work.

On the Council, I serve as Mayor Pro Tem, led efforts to draft Northfield’s Complete Streets policy and the domestic partnership registry. I’ve served on Council committees for considering options for the Post Office, Hospital Strategic Future Task Force, and downtown parking task force.

My education and training include: Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, University of MN law school, Humphrey Institute Public Policy Fellow, Blandin Community Leadership Program. I’ve served on the Planning Commission, Library Board, Charter Commission, Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force, and League of MN Cities Improving Local Economies Policy Committee.

I’ve lived in Northfield since 1989; I’m married with one high school daughter and two large dogs. I enjoy running, nordic skiing and skijoring, paper engineering (pop ups!) and drinking coffee in Northfield's fine coffee houses.
 
Much of what I wrote for northfield.org in 2008 is still relevant in 2012.
 
Questions
 
1. Comment on the impact of reduced state aid to the city and tell what measures the city should take to respond to the reduction:
 
State aid equaled about 40% of total revenue in 2006 or between $3-3.5 million; Governor Pawlenty unallotted about $600,000 in 2008 and 2009 and the legislature reduced aid amount, too. Because of the surprise nature of unallotment, the Council addressed the immediate loss of LGA using reserves and not filling vacancies. We set a goal to eliminate reliance on LGA by 2015 by cutting $500,000 annually and have reduced dependence by about $1.5 million by cutting library hours, increasing vehicle replacement periods, etc. To cut more, we need to address structural budget issues, take care of deferred maintenance while planning carefully to maintain and replace capital assets, consider alternative revenue sources, limit debt, consider collaboration (such as current efforts toward regional fire service) and grow the tax base on existing infrastructure.
 
2. What are your economic development priorities for the city?

Northfield can succeed by growing existing businesses, providing links to information and resources for business, and improving the business climate by reducing legal and procedural obstacles, facilitating redevelopment, and being ready to respond to opportunities for regional growth. New or expanding business on existing infrastructure is pure tax profit to the City; the business park would build millions in infrastructure (roads, sewer lift station, water tower) gambling on attracting business.

Most directly, city government should provide great service to businesses and residents, ensure high quality infrastructure and facilities, and enhance Northfield’s distinctive quality of life; all of these help support economic development by making the city a great place to live, work and play.

3. What are the physical and facility needs of the city? How do you propose to meet them?

Since 2008 the Council committed itself to addressing maintenance/replacement projects deferred by earlier Councils, including the new police station, City Hall renovations and increasing street repairs to reduce the number of miles of streets in poor condition.

There is still much to do including Library space needs, improvements to the waste water treatment plant, and maintaining all facilities. Looking to the future, Northfield needs to continue to improve its capital planning and evaluate revenue sources beyond property taxes and street assessments including grants for specific projects, utility franchise fees, etc.  The Council’s ability to manage this issue is critical; here are a few topics I’ve blogged about in more detail: Stormwater management, sidewalks, street assessments, infrastructure in general.

4. If elected, what regular methods will you use to get input from those you represent?

I’ll continue my blog on Council issues and public policy which allows comments from the public; my blog is linked to Twitter and Facebook, too. I’ll continue to attend a variety of events and meet groups of constituents. The Council needs to set clear policy to make as much information as possible easily accessible to the public; all data except what is protected by data privacy or other law should be easy to access. The City’s website is being updated and should provide a more user-friendly way to find information they need, do business with the city, and contact staff and Council. I’ve continued to urge the City to consider social media as an important citizen engagement tool. The Council needs to broadcast that we are accessible and eager to hear from residents via many media: phone, email, Facebook, letter, meetings, etc.
 
5. Comment on the long-term relationship of the city and the Public Library, the Northfield Hospital and the Northfield Community Resource Center.
  • Hospital: City owns it, appoints the Hospital Board and approves construction projects; the Board operates the hospital. The Hospital is a major employer and economic driver; the City should maintain ownership until changes in healthcare force reevaluation.
  • Library: City department providing essential services which, like streets or police, cannot be provided by the private sector. Sustaining the library must be a priority; libraries support education, job-seeking, quality of life.
  • NCRC: approved by referendum and financed by bonds and contributions from Senior Center, CAC, Three Rivers, Northfield Schools. The City owns and operates the NCRC plus makes annual payments toward the capital investment of the partners. The intent was operations would be revenue neutral. The ad hoc finance group suggested reducing the $390,000 annual payment; discussions have been held with partners, no agreement has been reached. Northfield needs to find an equitable way to end City ownership and subsidy.

6. Comment on the value to the work of the council of the city’s many advisory groups.

Councilors used to attend board meetings as liaisons, now we ask boards to review city policies to develop workplans, then meet with the Council to make recommendations. This has produced better leadership and action plans. For example, the Arts and Culture Commission used ArtsPlan 2006 and the Comprehensive Plan to plan their work of collaborating with community organizations to study economic impact and leverage grant dollars to install public art and study the economic impact of the arts. The EQC, HPC and Streetscape Taskforce worked with local youth and business people to produce the recycling bins downtown.
 
Council has delegated specific tasks with great results: Human Rights Commission drafted our domestic partnership registry, EQC developed stormwater incentives, PRAB is working on the skateboard park, and more.
 
Their value is high! We need to find better ways to market our boards so more talented people will apply and help.

Links to Additional Information