City leaders from Shorewood, Tonka Bay and Excelsior and public safety officials updated the public at the annual State of the Cities put on by the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 21. The topic that garnered a lot of discussion was the Metropolitan Council housing goals required of each of the cities by 2040.
“I thought the criteria for building homes should be in concert with other personalities as well as the county and state,” said Shorewood Mayor Scott Zerby. “So, my question is, where are we going to place these homes?”
An audience member asked a question about why the Met Council is requiring cities to build a certain number of new units.
“The Met Council has an overarching plan for the council district areas that they serve,” Tonka Bay Mayor Gerry De La Vega said. “The density that they’re looking for is five households per acre or something.”
“They just look at the census and demographics, and they know there’s more people coming and where are we going to put them?” Zerby said. “They require a new city to plan for that.”
Another requirement proposed by the Met Council is the number of affordable housing units to be built. Zerby talked about how difficult that is for the city to do.
“They talk about affordable housing, I think that’s very difficult to do out in this area, as you guys can guess,” Zerby said. “I don’t know what a half-acre lot goes for in Excelsior and Tonka Bay, but in Shorewood, it’s $300,000 or so, $350,000 is pretty typical.”
Zerby said he felt the only way to build affordable housing in the area is with government subsidies.
“The only way to get affordable housing, in my opinion, is through subsidies. Some agency has to help pay for it,” Zerby said.
Zerby stated that it would be beneficial to look at South Lake Minnetonka as a region. Vega was in agreement.
“I’ve talked to the Met Council about looking at this as a region, not city by city,” Zerby said. “To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, because each city has a plan where we’re going to put a big apartment and discussing it with other people. We need to work together and find out where to put everything.”
Zerby stated that the city leaders will continue to review and discuss the proposals to be built by 2040 and will meet with the Met Council in December.
Excelsior Fire District Chief Curtis Mackey and South Lake Minnetonka Police Chief Mike Meehan updated on their departments.
Meehan said the department is facing staffing challenges.
“One of the issues we’re dealing with at South Lake Minnetonka, along with every other agency in the state of Minnesota and probably nationally, is staffing issues,” Meehan said. “We have a really difficult time right now when we’re looking for new officers, finding viable candidates that want to come into the field of law enforcement.”
Meehan provided some figures based on the common metric of officers per 1,000 residents.
“Just in the lakes area I can give you a few examples,” Meehan said. “Wayzata Police Department is at 2.2 officers per 1,000 residents, Deephaven is at 1.79 officers per 1,000 residents, West Hennepin Public Safety is at 1.78, Orono Police Department is at 1.45, and the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department is at 1.15. 1.15 officers per 1,000 residents is easily the lowest in the lakes area communities, but it’s also one of the lowest in the metro area.”
Meehan was asked by an audience member what the staffing goals would be for the South Lake department.
“We have an authorized strength of sworn personnel, which is means police officers that carry a gun, of 15,” Meehan said. “Now, currently we are at about 13. My answer to that question is if I could say, ‘how many cops could we have,’ 17 would be a really good answer for me. I know that’s not going to come right away and I like to ask for one more now.”
Mackey discussed the staffing model recently added at the Excelsior Fire District.
“We started overnight duty crews and we started doing those Monday through Thursday from 10 to 5 a.m.,” Mackey said. “We’re going to expand that in January to seven days a week. That’s a big effective piece to the communities, our response times are lower, our point of contact with a patient or some time of event is way sooner.”
Mackey talked about the notable improvement in firefighter health of switching to the overnight duty crews.
“One of the things that it did beyond just benefiting the community, was lifted our firefighter and wellness,” Mackey said. “A lot of those same problems that the fire district has is recruitment and retention, and part of that is burnout factor. So, the goal with the overnights is we staff each station with two people, we still have a duty officer, so the duty officer is the officer that is in control or the command staff level.”
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