Posts Tagged ‘Golden Hydrant’

Golden Hydrant Goes to $79 Million Interchange Project

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 29th, 2012. Posted in Golden Hydrant

“Signature” project and “iconic” public space = Bad news for taxpayers

This week, the county board voted to move forward with the $79.3 million Interchange project in Minneapolis – advancing an additional $22 million in property taxes to the project (on top of the $10.8 that HennCo property taxpayers have already spent), along with another $6.3 million from the county’s Solid Waste Enterprise Fund (fees assessed on property owners’  waste hauling bills) which, while not a property tax, is still taxpayer money.  I was the only “no” vote.  In my frustrated mind, this project deserves something even more special than a Golden Fire Hydrant – but I don’t have a platinum-plated or diamond-encrusted version of the Hydrant, so we’ll stick with the original.

This project is particularly frustrating to me because: 1. We are clearly spending much more than necessary on the project; 2. The cost skyrocketed over 30% overnight just a few weeks ago; and 3. County taxpayers are going to end up paying a much larger percentage of the overall cost than we originally promised.  AND, most importantly, we could see all of these things coming for at least the past year and just kept moving full speed ahead.

The Interchange (which has its own website and county staff) “will serve as a unique, multi-modal transportation hub and community gathering space in downtown Minneapolis.”  Here’s what it will look like:

A Streetcar Named Absurd

Written by Jeff Johnson on May 11th, 2012. Posted in General, Golden Hydrant

Hennepin County Taxpayers Contribute Toward Grand Vision of New Streetcar System in Minneapolis

The Golden Fire Hydrant Award goes to the county board’s vote this week to contribute $150,000 to an Alternatives Analysis study for a streetcar line along West Broadway in North Minneapolis.  That $150,000 contribution would be part of the local match to a $720,000 federal contribution from (get this) the Federal Transit Administration Discretionary Livability Funding Opportunity Alternatives Analysis Program.  The contribution passed on a vote of 4 -3 (with Jan Callison, Randy Johnson and me voting no).

Mayor Rybak and the Minneapolis City Council apparently have a new grand vision of bringing back yet another 19th century form of transportation and creating a system of streetcar lines throughout the city.

Sorry, kids, but light rail, commuter rail and “high-speed” rail are so yesterday.  The cool cities are now investing in streetcars (on top, of course, of billions for rail).

And, should Minneapolis win this streetcar grant, it wouldn’t be the first.  In 2010, Minneapolis was awarded $900,000 from the FTA for an alternatives analysis of a Nicollet Avenue streetcar and in 2011 Metro Transit was awarded $600,000 for an alternatives analysis of a Midtown/Lake Street streetcar.

County Purchases New Office Tower for $25 Million

Written by Jeff Johnson on April 26th, 2011. Posted in General, Golden Hydrant

Golden Hydrant Goes to Purchase of New Downtown Office Buildinggoldenhydrant

The county board voted 6 – 1 today to purchase the “701 Building” across the street from the Hennepin County Government Center for $25.8 million (actually a $23 million purchase price and another $2.8 million for scheduled improvements).  The Star Tribune yesterday gave an accurate description of the then-expected decision:

Seeking to consolidate the county’s downtown Minneapolis office rentals, the Hennepin County Board Tuesday is expected to buy a pink-and-blue glass office tower that’s across the street from the Government Center.

Commissioners will vote on a $25.8 million purchase agreement for the 701 Building, an 18-story structure at 701 4th Av. S. The deal would be one of Hennepin County’s most significant building acquisitions in recent years. Rarely has the county bought an office building so big, expensive and relatively new.

But the 701, county real estate manager Michael Noonan said, “is a good opportunity to own rather than lease.”

The county’s public defenders office already rents there. If the deal closes in early June, the first new batch of county employees — from the Environmental Services building near Target Field — would move in this fall. That building is slated for closing to make room for a new light-rail platform.

Counting the public defenders, the county then would occupy a third of the building’s 287,000 square feet.

I voted “no” on this purchase.  Not only was it a terrible bargain for taxpayers (the building sold for approximately $15 million in 2007 and was assessed at approximately $11 million this year), but  it will also bring Hennepin County into the downtown commercial leasing business in a significant way for many years.  The assumptions upon which the decision was based include the county leasing out approximately 150,000 square feet of prime downtown office space to commercial tenants immediately upon purchase and continuing to lease at least a portion of that floor space for ten years – and likely much longer.

Free Healthcare for Illegal Immigrants

Written by Jeff Johnson on October 5th, 2010. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantGolden Hydrant goes to Hennepin County for providing free non-emergency health care to illegal immigrants

Today the county board voted on some significant changes to Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) admissions policy, including changes to whom HCMC provides free subsidized non-emergency care. Hennepin County taxpayers subsidize HCMC to the tune of over $30 million each year to cover free and reduced-cost services to the poor.

The new policy proposed to deny free non-emergency services (federal law requires all hospitals to provide emergency services to everyone, regardless of ability to pay) to those who do not live in Hennepin County. In the past, HCMC has provided services to anyone who walked in the door, regardless of residence or ability to pay. Under this new policy, HCMC would continue to provide free services to ANYONE who claims to live in Hennepin County, including illegal immigrants.

I offered an amendment to the policy stating simply:

“Free and Discounted Care provided through Hennepin County Medical Center will be limited to U.S. citizens or legal noncitizens except as otherwise required by state or federal law…”

My proposal failed on a vote of 6 – 1.

The latest Golden Fire Hydrant goes to HCMC’s decision – and the county board’s blessing of that decision – to spend taxpayer dollars to provide free non-emergency health care services to illegal immigrants.

Are We Really Broke?

Written by Jeff Johnson on September 22nd, 2010. Posted in Golden Hydrant

Golden Hydrant goes to plan for spending $342,000 on new art in Plymouth and Maple Grove librariesgoldenhydrant

The county board voted 6 – 1 yesterday (with me being the “no” vote) to spend $60,000 on a public art project in the new Plymouth Library. Another $60,000 project for this facility is soon to come, followed by $220,000 worth of art projects for the recently completed new library in Maple Grove.

The newest Golden Fire Hydrant goes to the Hennepin County Board’s policy requiring that 1% of total project cost be added to the top of every large library project for public art.

I had the honor of helping cut ribbons for the grand openings of two beautiful new Hennepin County libraries in western Hennepin County recently. The costs for these new libraries in Plymouth and Maple Grove were approximately $12 million and $22 million, respectively.

I learned a few weeks ago, however, that despite being open for months to rave reviews from everyone, these new libraries are not complete, as we have not yet spent the required $342,000 on public art.

Spending That Makes Us Feel Good . . . and Accomplishes Nothing Else

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 2nd, 2010. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantGolden Hydrant goes to extension of ineffective teen pregnancy program

The newest Golden Fire Hydrant goes to the county’s “Better Together Hennepin: Healthy Youth, Healthy Communities” teen pregnancy prevention program. Last week the board voted 6 -1 to extend the program two years and spend another $518,000 (for a 4-year total of $1.1 million), despite receiving a report on the program showing it’s doing little or nothing to change the sexual behavior of the kids in the program.

“Better Together Hennepin” actually consists of several different teen pregnancy prevention programs that the county has been funding for two years – apparently to little success. Included are education and outreach programs through several different vendors, including Planned Parenthood, the Annex Teen Clinic and the Storefront Group. Also, the program includes funding two half-time sex education teachers in the Richfield and Brooklyn Center public schools.

The board chose to fund these programs for another two years despite seeing outcome studies that show they are ineffective in changing kids’ sexual behavior. This decision is a great example of government throwing money at a problem because it makes us feel good to be doing SOMETHING, even if that something is having no positive effect.

County Spends Extra $14 Million to Make Bridge Look Really Cool

Written by Jeff Johnson on November 5th, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

Golden Hydrant goes to Lowry Avenue Bridgegoldenhydrant

We’re in the midst of budget hearings and property tax discussions on the Hennepin County Board, so it’s been awhile since I last awarded a Golden Fire Hydrant, but I can’t pass this one up. The newest Hydrant goes to the Board’s decision to spend an extra $14 million to make the new Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis a “signature” bridge – meaning it will look much fancier than most other bridges in Minnesota.

A little background:

The Lowry Avenue Bridge was built in 1905 and spans the Mississippi at Lowry Avenue in North Minneapolis.  For over 100 years, the bridge carried motorists over the Mississippi almost uninterrupted until it was closed last year based upon the discovery that one of the bridge piers had shifted.

After that discovery, the county appropriately decided that the old bridge was no longer structurally safe and needed to be demolished and rebuilt.

Using Taxpayer Dollars to Lobby for Higher Taxes

Written by Jeff Johnson on September 1st, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantGolden Hydrant goes to Property Tax Study Project

The latest Golden Fire Hydrant award goes to the Property Tax Study Project, an endeavor Hennepin County has funded on and off for the past decade.

Bottom line (and pardon my crudeness): Government is giving the finger to the taxpayers of Hennepin County as it spends taxpayer money to lobby the legislature for increased taxes on those same taxpayers.

Home Sweet Wet Home

Written by Jeff Johnson on July 30th, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantTaxpayers fund “wet housing” for alcoholics where they’re allowed to continue drinking

Hennepin County (and government in general) spends a great deal of money on treatment programs for individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol. In my opinion, much of this money is well-spent.

I learned last week, however, of a housing program receiving Hennepin County funding that takes a unique (and I would argue ridiculous) approach to taxpayer-funded “treatment” for chronic alcoholics. The program is referred to as a “wet house” or “non-sober house” in which chronic inebriates are provided housing and other government services on a long-term basis – and are allowed to continue drinking!

Hennepin County’s wet house funding is receiving the newest Golden Fire Hydrant award.

Garbage Burner Beautification

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 10th, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

County Spends $700,000 on Landscaping at Garbage Burnergoldenhydrant_web

The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (“HERC” a.k.a. “the garbage burner”) is a hulking complex in Minneapolis next to the new Twins stadium that can often be seen billowing smoke on a cold winter morning. It’s not a bad looking place (as far as county garbage burners go). It’s clean, neat and tastefully painted in pale tan with chocolate brown accent walls. “Not bad-looking”, however, just doesn’t cut it anymore for the HERC, at least not now that higher class neighbors are about to move in.

Last month, the county board approved a $1.95 million project to make the HERC look and smell a little better.