Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Library Budget

Mayor Mike Huether presented his City Budget for 2011 on Thursday. For practical purposes it is a no growth budget. It holds spending at current levels based on the Munson administration’s 2010 “holdback budget” levels. Sales taxes for 2011 are projected with NO increase and there are no increases in City employees.

The Argus leader proclaimed in their front page above the fold story on Friday, “Mayor Seeks Budget Cuts.” The front page story below a very out of the ordinary photograph of the Mayor’s backside with both arms raised above his head (Elmer Gantry style) has the sub headline, “Huether’s plan trims spending for police, snow removal.” Beyond the unusual photograph is the more interesting headline on page 4, where the news report continues and proclaims, “Budget: City libraries also face cuts.”

It is the Library cuts I wish to address. While factually accurate, the headline takes the facts out of context and leaves the wrong impression.

Public Lending Libraries are important! They are an important element and component of life long education, important to our culture and important to our civilization. As Sioux Falls continues to evolve into a medical research center and as out of state talent are recruited to relocate to Sioux Falls, our Library is becoming a part of our economic development effort as well.

In my youth and at the University much of the best time I spent was at the Library.

I have a strong interest in our libraries (libraries are evolving in how they are being used (extremely digital) – a subject for future posts). Currently I have the honor and the privilege of serving on the Siouxland Libraries Board of Trustees. Consequently I have more than a passing awareness of “what’s happening” concerning the proposed City Budget, particularly as it affects the Library.

Sidebar – The Board of Trustees are not responsible for the operation of the Libraries. The Mayor thru his administration sets budgets (with the approval of the City Council) and operates the Siouxland Library System. Direct operational control is vested in the Director of Libraries. The current Director is Sally Felix who has been at her post for about seven years.

The Library “Board sets policies for the library and provides citizen input and recommendations for administrative actions to the Library Director, Sally Felix, and to the governing bodies.” (taken from the City website)

The Board of Trustees is very committed to assuring that our libraries are responsive to the needs of our Community.

Back to the Budget and the “Argus Leader”

The “Argus Leader” story reported –

“Total expenditures for Siouxland Libraries would drop form $11.7 million in the original budget to $6.6 million in 2011 under Huether’s plan, according to the budget documents.”

The report is accurate but totally misleading. The appearance is that the Mayor has gutted the Libraries budget. For whatever reason, the reporter did not drill into the budget, failed to ask the Mayor, the City Finance Director, or the Director of Libraries for an explanation. The reporter did not actually look at line items in the 2010 budget or for any explanation. Had they done amy research they would have found that the 2010 budget included $4.3 million in one time monies for the planning and construction of the Westside Library that will be built at 26th Street and Discovery Avenue in 2012. The funds were budgeted in 2010 and secured through the Quality of Life Bonds II issued last year. The money for the Westside Branch is in the bank!

In the Mayor's proposed 2011 budget there is also a reduction of expenditures from the use of sales tax monies for the capital acquisition of materials. Much of the materials acquisition shortfall will be made up of the use of funds leftover from the Main Library construction and renovation project. This project came in under costs estimates in part due to the poor economic conditions of the past two years. The budget procedure being employed in 2011 is similar to what is currently being done relative to the 2010 budget holdbacks.

Yes, budgeting can get a little complicated, but the Library will continue to be operated in 2011 without any significant cuts in service. Overall the 2011 is about a 0.4% reduction over the 2010 budget with holdbacks.

The Argus has a duty while getting the facts, intentionally or otherwise not to leave a misimpression.

Siouxland Libraries has a dedicated staff that makes our Libraries one of the Crown Jewels of our community.

A little advertising and promotion –

If you have not seen the renovated and expanded Main Branch Dowtown Sioux Falls, it is a MUST.

In the first two months of operation there were:

126,000 visits – up 53% over 2007
91,000 items borrowed – up 20% over 2007
17,000 computer uses – up 3% over 2007
950 new library cards issued – up 22% over 2007
2,600 people attended programs – up 2% over 2007

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goin’ East Bank

C N A Surety formerly locally owned Western Surety made it official Tuesday it is relocating its offices to a new location on at the Schoeneman lumber yard site on the East Bank of the Big Sioux River on East Eighth Street.

Coincidentally the City of Sioux Falls this week commenced a street project renovation on East Eighth Street from Phillips Avenue going east across the Big Sioux River. The construction work includes utilities improvement, road resurfacing and streetscape (don’t you just love that word?) improvements. Presumably streetscape improvements mean center medians with trees and liberal use of the red brick that is finding its way into other downtown projects. Streetscaping improvements I assume will be the same or compatible to the median and sidewalks on the south side of the Holiday Inn and the Main Library on Eighth Street.

The effects of these two developments will be interesting and impact Downtown in several varied ways.

In the most positive way it sets up development on the East Bank of the river downtown. The new Lloyd Properties development (C N A Building) will be an anchor property on Eighth Street that mirrors the Cherapa Place property at Sixth Street and the river. Both Cherapa Place and the C N A building are being developed down to the riverbank. Also in the planning stage is a City Amphitheatre on the East Bank at the riverbank just south of Cherapa Place. The City bonded for these “river greenway improvements” in July of 2009 with the sale of Quality of Life II Bonds.

These two blocks on the River between Sixth and Eighth Streets will become the Gateway to the East Bank. I do not personally know Jeff Scherschligt, President of Howalt Mc Dowell Insurance, and the mover and shaker of Cherapa but have heard rumors that he envisions an active River Walk on the East Bank than might include gondola rides on the river.

With the development of the Schoeneman property the last remaining trophy parcel along the river bank is the Sioux Steel / Rysdon property north of Sixth Street on the West Side of the River. This property not only abuts the River but the primo property east of Phillips Avenue leading to Sioux Falls’ crown jewel – Falls Park.

Worth noting – The “Argus Leader” reported the Schoeneman property also might be the sight for another commercial property or a hotel.

The effect will be to make Phillips Avenue a little bit more of a shopping, dining, and entertainment district and less of a commercial district. Consider that moving 400 or 500 employees out of the Western Surety Building leaves another major downtown looking for tenants (Midland Life building and recent closure of the DME / Canadian Pacific Office at the former I B M Building on the riverbank at Eighth and Phillips).

Sidebar - It was rumored some months ago that Sioux Falls City government who needs more office space was negotiating for the purchase of the Midland National Life building. However negotiations ended without completing a deal. Will the City now consider purchasing the Western Surety Building at Ground Zero (Ninth and Phillips -just 2 blocks east City Hall)?

What happens to the Up Town development? (on Main Avenue north of Fifth Street) – It seems to me, barring a major tenant being found for one of the properties on Main Avenue abutting the development ground west of Phillips Avenue leading to Falls Park, development has been pushed back on the calendar. These properties seemed particularly “hot” prior to the recession because of the prospects of using the land on the west side of Philips north of Sixth Street. With the East Bank opening up to more offices and ultimately, hotels, dining, and entertainment perhaps Up Town can best be used for Housing and boutique shopping. This area too could be used for burgeoning growth of the County and City government Campus.

Much of this is speculation on my part and will not be completed for perhaps ten to fifteen years but the good news is: Development is happening and those C N A jobs will not be leaving the Queen City. Going East perhaps but not too far!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Act of Political Courage

The “Argus Leader” online edition reports that in discussions the Minnehaha County Commission discussed whether to declare the County an “economic recovery zone.” County Auditor, Sue Roust, said such a declaration would entitle (emphasis added) the County access to $2,785,000 of stimulus money.

Remarkably Auditor Roust is quoted as saying, “I don’t think we are distraught.” Minnehaha County currently has an unemployment rate (as reported by the “Argus” of 5.5%, while the national rate is closer to 10%.

Commissioners Anne Hajek and Dick Kelly balked.

Certainly County Government could always use more money. Can you think of any person or organization that couldn’t use more money? The brief article does not report that any specific need was mentioned.

Debate rages in the nation as to whether the economy is truly in recovery or in the throws of a double dip recession. Employment lags and deficits grow. Partisan finger pointing speaks to is the President’s Stimulus Package working. The White House says without qualification YES. They refer to the 2.5 million jobs that have been created or “saved” (whatever that is?)

I understand the temptation of the Washington Pols to use our money (or more accurately borrow) to give us a presents they can take credit for. I also understand the logic if we don’t take it someone else will.

This insanity must stop. The DEFICIT is the number one political issue. It is the glue that binds the Tea Party movement and certainly is motivating Republicans, Independents that are moving in droves (according to polling), and even some Democrats in their support of GOP candidates. The President though and many Democrats, particularly the U S House Leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Appropriations Chairman David Obey, think the road to recovery is paved with more Federal spending. There is even talk of Stimulus II.

Our Government and Economy are a mess. Deficits must be tackled and real leadership is required. I understand how hard it is to give up the teat but as everyone knows (and has known for a long time and has not had the courage to do it) we must give up our share too. Entitlements must be reigned in.

The Commissioners need to act decisively and find the courage to say No, and the taxpayers need to understand that the only way to stop our collective fiscal insanity is to say No.

Endbar – Recollection - In the early 1980’s the City of Faith turned down a federal development grant of $400,000 to build a rodeo arena. Local Citizens did not understand why the Federal Government should pay for a local project. They built it themselves. It has been a generation ago but it is a great example of the kind of political courage all of us need today.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thanks Ike

Today is the 91st anniversary of the commencement of the Transcontinental Motor Convoy. The convoy was the first convoy across the Continental United States. It departed Washington, D C on July 7, 1919 and arrived in San Francisco on September 6.
An endeavor of this kind was important because armies move on roads.

One of the prominent leaders of the convoy was Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower who graduated West Point in 1915 never deployed overseas during World War I. He stayed stateside developing the use of armored Tanks for warfare. Eisenhower was third in command of the new Tanker Corps. During the War Eisenhower spent some time training and developing tanker tactics at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. For a training ground he used the hallowed ground of the location of Pickett’s Charge on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Many years later Eisenhower and his wife Mamie purchased a farm home, at Gettysburg adjacent to the battlefield. The home on the farm was remodeled (actually rebuilt) during Eisenhower’s Presidency. The Eisenhowers never took up full time residency until 1961 after Ike left the Presidency. The Eisenhowers were married in 1916. The Gettysburg farm was the Eisenhowers first home.

During the convoy due to the poor highways and the heavy nature of the tanks, trucks, and other military equipment, if any rain or otherwise wet roads were encountered the convoy stopped. During the 1930s Eisenhower studied the German Autobahn.

During his career Ike learned the importance of good roads.

In his book, “At Ease Stories I Tell to Friends”, Ike relates how he came to think about and push for the establishment of the Interstate Highway System. BTW, “At Ease” is a great read. From the book:

“The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”

“This was one of the things that I felt deeply about, and I made a personal and absolute decision to see that the nation would benefit by it.”

Happenstance is a great thing about history. There is little doubt that without the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System our nation and our commerce would not be what it is today.

The superhighways enabled suburbanization.

Given today’s current political environment, both the partisan gridlock in Congress and the bureaucracy’s inability to deal with large projects (think protecting borders, natural disasters, oil spills, that such a project could pass the Congress or be constructed in a fiscally responsible (large cost overruns) or timely way.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Significant Development

Saturday found me at another of Mayor Huether’s weekly listening meetings at the Whisk & Chop. This is the fourth I’ve attended. They are extremely informative and I have learned quite a bit about the operation of City government.

Yesterday’s forum featured Mike Cooper director of Planning and Building Services. As all the division heads have done, Cooper gave an informative presentation on his department, spoke to the current hot button issues, and took questions (hard and soft) about his responsibilities. All of the Division Directors have been very professional.

A few of the facts that Cooper reported that I found interesting were that in the first half of this year building permits were issued for 455 new housing units in Sioux Falls of which 234 were for single family homes and that 25% of the workers in Sioux Falls do not live here.

This morning’s “Argus Leader” reported on the meeting and led with the headline, “City Plans Zoning Code Revisions.” While there was a good deal of discussion about public notification about zoning changes and code enforcement, the news report missed the big news of the meeting.

While Cooper was talking about long range (emphasize long range) planning specifically to roads he mentioned that an overpass is contemplated that would connect Russell Street with Rice Street to make another Cross-town Boulevard similar to what is being developed on 57th Street. While this is long term and other to what I believe conceptual, this overpass might begin at North Main Avenue and connect where Weber meets Rice at the intersection of the Stockyards and Morrells, past the north end of Falls Park. (any interpretations or misinterpretations here are mine – not Mr. Coopers).

This prompted a question about the future of the Stockyards. The Stockyards represents a large (I think he said about 34 acres) site for development within the City – actually near downtown. Cooper answered (at the urging of Mayor Huether to let the cat out of the bag) that the site had recently been purchased by Peska Construction (presumably for development) and an announcement was forthcoming in a couple of weeks.

Sidebar – Hello “Argus Leader” isn’t this news? Did anyone call Peska Construction for comment?

My guess given the fact that the site was a Stockyards and it’s across the street from perhaps the largest slaughterhouse and meat processing complex in the United States (certainly it’s one of, if not the last 19th Century old school multi story plants left), the zoning has to be the heaviest of Industrial zoning unless Stockyards have their own zoning classification.

Finally worth noting from the meeting, Mayor Huether said that he had a call from “Money” magazine within the last two weeks and that he was told Sioux Falls was again being considered to be named their best place to live in America. The Mayor was generous when talking about it and said any credit belonged to Dave Munson.

Along with Sanford research, an announcement by “Money” and Stockyards redevelopment Sioux Falls is moving forward.

Endbar – in the spirit of good things starting to happen, it was reported (yes in the “Argus Leader”) that several of the empty big box retail spaces in The Meadows have recently been leased. These good things are happening despite a languishing recovery in the national economy.