letter-envelope

To the Editor:

Hopkins residents are facing their second year in a row of steep tax increases. The city’s levy is currently planned to grow 12.86% — a 14.6% projected tax increase on a median-value home. This is far beyond what homeowners experience just across the city’s boundaries and unsustainable by any definition.

At the meeting where council members approved the preliminary levy, they dismissed residents’ objections with reassurances that the city has a financial plan and these actions are necessary to set the city’s financial house in order.

Yet even the most cursory look shows the shallowness of these reassurances:

- With the exception of one council member, the same elected officials pledging to reset city finances are the ones in office through the steep spike in debt and deep art center deficit. The city manager has been in charge since 2011. These leaders didn’t inherit financial difficulties; they oversaw them.

- The city’s debt increase far outpaces the increase in neighboring communities. Hopkins’ per capita debt is 170% higher than a decade ago — nearly twice the average increase of 94% for neighboring communities.

- Past financial plans have failed to accurately forecast costs even as neighboring communities have managed to do so. The unexpected costs for projects like road repairs haven’t hit our neighbors the same way even though they bid in the same market.

- The entire purpose of debt and financial plans is to smooth out major expenses over time. Yet the city uses predictable street projects, the like of which are done every year, to excuse debt spikes that should have been anticipated.

Residents deserve greater transparency from elected officials if they’re to stomach large tax increases. Specifically, we deserve:

- A review that provides full accountability for the decisions that led to our present financial situation.

- Annual financial benchmarking against neighboring and peer cities.

- An independent committee to annually review the city’s finances similar to the school district’s citizen’s financial advisory committee.

Residents are willing to pay for amenities, but only if officials exercise responsible stewardship of our contributions.

James Warden

Hopkins

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