The city of Edina is lobbying for local control on a range of matters as the State Legislature prepares for its 2020 session.
That was the theme of an Edina City Council study session last month that summarized local legislative priorities.
“This is a much more comprehensive list than the legislative priorities that we’ve had in the past,” observed Councilmember Mary Brindle, acting as mayor in the absence of Mayor Jim Hovland for the Jan. 22 meeting.
The largest section of the agenda addresses affordable housing, as the city looks for ways to create more of it and to protect tenants. Edina is supporting a piece of legislation that would allow for a 90-day protection period for cases when naturally occurring affordable housing is sold to owners who plan to upgrade the property and increase rents.
During the 90-day period, landlords would be prohibited from raising rent, while tenants would be granted time to seek other housing. Cities are limited in creating their own such policies, “because we don’t have the legislative authority to pass that type of ordinance,” said Stephanie Hawkinson, the city of Edina’s affordable housing development manager.
The city also wants the state to protect tenants via eviction expungement reform. This measure would expunge eviction records in certain cases, such as when a tenant is evicted after being charged with a minor offense but not convicted, Hawkinson explained.
The legislation would also allow for the expungement of eviction cases more than three years old if the eviction is no longer deemed a reasonable predictor of future tenant behavior, a city staff report notes.
Meanwhile, the city is lobbying for greater tax benefits for landlords who set aside space for affordable housing. Currently, the 4d tax rate program allows property owners to pay a tax rate of .75% for affordable housing units, compared to 1.25% for market-rate spaces. The city wants to see that incentive enhanced by lowering the tax on affordable housing to .25%.
The city is also lobbying to remove what staff view as a barrier to long-term homeownership for low-income residents. One way nonprofit affordable housing providers promote homeownership is through land trusts, in which an organization owns the land occupied by a specific home, but the occupant owns the house itself.
However, the occupant currently has to pay taxes on both the house and the property, despite not owning the land it sits on. A bill in the Legislature would require the dweller to pay taxes on the home only, while no taxes would be collected on the land, Hawkinson explained.
In promoting the creation of multi-family affordable housing units, the city requires a “buy-in” fee from developers seeking to build on a piece of land that requires a special zoning classification known as a planned-use development. A proposed change in state law would allow cities like Edina to assess such a fee for all new housing developments.
“With the affordable housing crisis the way it is, we want to make sure funding levels stay robust,” Hawkinson said.
Alternative to street assessments
With the amount that residents are assessed for road reconstruction recently reaching a record high in Edina, the city is exploring alternatives that would alleviate the burden on individual homeowners when the road they live on comes due for renewal. Under the current system, each home within a project area is directly assessed for the road reconstruction affecting their neighborhood, instead of the cost being absorbed across the city.
Edina is supporting a proposal to allow cities to create street improvement districts that, similar to sidewalk improvement districts, would spread costs throughout a designated area.
Local option sales tax
The Edina City Council has already sent a request to the Legislature to enact a half-cent per dollar sales tax within the city. If the Legislature approves the request, the question would go to voters via referendum.
Public safety training facility
Edina is seeking state bonding for $6 million that would fund improvements to the South Metro Regional Public Safety Training Facility, a regional asset for law enforcement and firefighters. However, that earmark did not make it into Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed $2 billion budget.
“I don’t know why,” Edina City Manager Scott Neal said. Neal did note, however, that other public safety training centers in Minnesota are also seeking money, and that none of those projects are in the governor’s budget either.
“We continuously have to advocate for our funding of fire resources and training,” Edina Fire Chief Tom Schmitz said. “ … Trying to just maintain what we get is where most of our efforts go.”
More money for parks
When multi-family housing complexes are built, demand for parks and outdoor amenities increases considerably, notes the city staff report on legislative priorities. So, the city is seeking legislation that would allow the imposition of park dedication fees to cover costs associated with the increased demand.
“That is one that’s had a lot of impact on us because we’ve had so much redevelopment of non-residential and residential projects here,” Neal said.
City Councilmember Mike Fischer sees the need.
“If we are adding population, we need to be able to add park facilities, so I’m all in,” he said.
Newspaper public notices
While seeking greater funding in some areas, the city is also seeking to reduce costs elsewhere. A perennial issue in that respect is a state law that requires cities to publish legally required public notices in newspapers.
Edina spent $36,000 on 143 public notices published in the Edina Sun Current in 2018, according to city data. “We feel like we could reach more people at less cost if we didn’t have to do this,” Neal said.
Edina would like greater leeway in where legal notices are published, seeking permission to publish the notices on the city website or its own publications.
Councilmember Kevin Staunton summarized the perennial legislative battle that occurs between newspaper interests and cities as the requirement is debated.
“This is a big part of their revenue stream for local newspapers, so they fight like crazy to keep it, and I understand that. But also, why don’t we just take some money and give it to local newspapers if that’s the issue?” Staunton said.
The Edina City Council has already approved a resolution in support of state legislation that would give contractors incentive to use less de-icing salt. The council is continuing that lobbying effort this year.
“It’s crazy how much salt is out there,” Fischer observed as he commented that contractors put down more salt than needed out of fear of liability due to potential slippery conditions.
A proposal at the Legislature would grant operators limited liability if they complete the Minnesota Pollution Control’s Smart Salting Certification Program.
Another effort to reduce pollution applies to the state’s energy use standards for buildings. Furthering the theme of local control, Edina staff and policymakers would like the freedom to enact their own, more ambitious standards.
Edina is among six cities – the rest being Bloomington, Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and St. Paul – who are leading workshops exploring energy standards.
Recognizing other pollution concerns, Edina is officially onboard a push to repeal a state statute that prevents cities from banning plastic shopping bags. “Let us make up our own minds,” Staunton said.
– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent