Mayor's State of the City Address
Once again, it is my honor to serve as your Mayor and to provide you with a “State of the City” report. In looking back on 2016, it was another year of significant accomplishment and progress for Little Canada. As we move forward through 2017, more exciting opportunities are on the horizon that will help us make our community an even better place to live and work.
Before highlighting recent accomplishments and new possibilities, I want thank Council Members Rick Montour, Mike McGraw, Christian Torkelson, and Tom Fischer for their commitment to our community. Little Canada’s elected officials have continued to work well together focusing on the City’s best interests. I also want to thank City staff for their day-to-day service to Little Canada. Last, but not least, I want to commend the volunteers of the Little Canada Fire Department, Little Canada Historical Society, the Canadian Days Committee, the Little Canada Recreation Association, and the Veterans Committee for their tireless efforts on behalf of our city.
The following summary highlights some of the main issues and activities we have been addressing:
City finances continue to be a key area of emphasis for the City Council and staff. We continue to be in excellent financial condition as evidenced by our AA+ bond rating and financial reserves. In 2016, we applied for and were awarded our first ever Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for our 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
For our 2017 Budget, we approved a levy increase of 2.88%. This is the 6th year in a row where the City’s levy has been 3.0% or less with an average annual levy over that same period of time equaling 2.20%. Given the City’s tax base growth, the tax rate has fallen from 30.305 in 2016 to 28.903 in 2017; or a 4.6% reduction.
Our 2017 Goal Setting took place on February 13. The following goals were adopted for 2017:
- Increase Community Engagement - This goal has identified the following areas of focus in implementing this goal: increasing voter turnout, obtaining community input on comprehensive plan update, re-establish our Community Pride Committee, provide outreach to diverse populations, youth engagement/involvement as well as creating more youth activities, provide for intergenerational connections, provide a website link for local resources to help seniors in the community, promote a Little Canada Business Registry Listing, and ensure public input on county road improvement projects.
- Update our Parks Master Plan - This goal also has some focal points to specifically address that include rehab/reconstruction of the Spooner Park playground, increase Wi-Fi availability in city parks, construct a dog park, and evaluate the current use of park equipment and playgrounds.
- Work with Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department to learn more about hiring practices and training, prepare a response action plan should a race-involved police event occur within the contract jurisdictions, and discuss opportunities for improving race relations.
- Undertake 2018 Comprehensive Plan Update with special emphasis on the zoning of Mobile Home Parks, a discussion of residential property development, and plans to develop city-owned properties.
- Increase efforts on crime prevention focused on areas with higher crime rates.
Action plans are being prepared to implement these goals that should be approved by the end of April. A complete copy of the goal setting report will also be available on our website.
Economic Development with an emphasis on redevelopment continues to be a key component of our City’s vitality. Major projects taking place in 2017 include Hearth Development’s completion of the 120-unit Cardigan Ridge senior housing project and the new retail project at the corner of Country Drive and Rice Street that currently houses Taco John’s and soon will add a Subway restaurant. Work will also be completed on the new Capitol View School that is operated by the 916 School District. Finally, Tri-State Bobcat will be finishing up their renovation of the former Bally’s Fitness site on Minnesota Avenue to house its operation. The City is also working on the sale of five acres of City-owned land off of Twin Lake Boulevard. While still in the early planning stages, we anticipate a new townhome development of between 12-14 units at this site.
Transportation & Road Improvements
Transportation and road improvements will continue to impact us in 2016. We continue to experience regional road construction projects in 2017. The Corridors of Commerce project that will add a lane in each direction on I-694 from Rice Street to Lexington Avenue will be completed. Additional Sound Barrier Walls will be completed in 2017 associated with the second phase of MnPASS We are also hopeful that the legislature will provide funding for a new bridge on Rice Street over I-694. While a final design has not been decided upon, it appears a series of three or four roundabouts will be used as part of this project. According to the consultants working on this project, that is the only way to get significant improvements in traffic flow and provide for future traffic growth given the constraints that exist in this area. Data review to date projects faster trips through the interchange in rush hour while also reducing wait times for connecting roads that want to access Rice Street. While the roundabout concept is not universally favored, survey data collected from 225 attendees at Ramsey County’s Open House held on February 21 indicates the following:
- 77.4% experience traffic challenges through this interchange.
- 86.2% feel roadway improvements are needed
- 59.6% had a positive or neutral opinion of roundabouts.
More information regarding roundabouts and the specifics of this project can be found in the Rice Street/I-694 Interchange Analysis and Design information.
Locally, the City completed the reconstruction of Centerville Road on behalf of Ramsey County. In 2017, the County will be resurfacing Keller Parkway while the City will be working on Spruce Street, Ryan Drive, and Ryan Lane in Ryan Industrial Park to improve the road surface and drainage in the area. We will also be reconstructing Rose Lane and Lakeshore Avenue (Old C to Lake Street). Finally, Vanderbie Street will see curb and gutter corrections and a new road surface.
A 24-hour Quiet Zone involving six Little Canada at-grade railroad crossings plus two additional crossings in Shoreview were implemented last summer. The bulk of the costs have been paid for from bonding money provided by the Legislature. While this hasn’t solved all train issues we experience, it has definitely made things quieter for Little Canada residents.
Parks & Recreation
Some big changes have taken place in the Park and Recreation area starting with the retirement of our long-time Director, Jim Morelan. We are currently in the process of filling a new position that will deal with Parks and Recreation as well as social media and other community services. In 2016, the Parks and Recreation Commission also completed their visioning process
to clarify their direction for the future. They also developed a capital expenditure program that focuses on upgrades to the Spooner Park playground, converting one tennis court to four pickle ball courts, renovations to the Gervais Mill Park parking lot and garden area, and establishment of a dog park within the Demont Rink during nonskating months.
Other Items of Interest
- We will be joining the social media world in 2017 with the implementation of a new Facebook page. We also plan on upgrading the City’s website to make it “mobile friendly” and generally easier to navigate for all users.
- We will be dedicating the 2nd Phase of the Veterans Memorial on June 14. This phase added a “Freedom Wall,” including a water
feature, a war dog memorial, a Killed-In-Action paver area, recognition pavers for significant donors, and some interpretative signage. Opportunities still exist to purchase pavers for past or present veterans to commemorate their service to our country.
- Final grading and restoration work will be completed by early summer on the four houses that were demolished early last winter.
- The Council will be discussing possible ordinance changes to allow backyard chickens based on the request of some citizens.
- A new fire truck should arrive around the end of the year to replace a pumper purchased in 1994. The cost of the truck itself is $636,786 and is being funded by our Fire Equipment Replacement Fund that is made up of tax levy dollars and contributions from the Little Canada Fire Department’s charitable gaming operation.
- As mentioned elsewhere in this article, the City is embarking on an update to its Comprehensive Plan as mandated by State Law. We will be seeking public input into this process to ensure our long-term development plans meet the community’s objectives and
desires. Please watch our website, Channel 16, the newsletter, and our new Facebook page for more information on how to provide input into this process.
As you can tell from reading this report, the City will be intensifying our efforts to enhance communications and engagement with our residents through the use of social media, a new website, and other public input processes. With greater public input, the City Council will be in a better position to provide for community needs going forward.
Little Canada is a great place to live and work because of our excellent location in the metropolitan area, and more importantly, because of our strong sense of community pride. That sentiment is unique within the metropolitan area. Speaking on behalf of your City Council, fostering a strong sense of community pride helps us move the City forward in a manner that citizens can be proud of.
Thank you for the honor of serving as your Mayor.