Open Forum for week of April 4

EDITOR’S NOTE: Letters will be accepted for the Open Forum for publication in the next available issue after receipt. Letters may be sent to Forest Lake Times, 880 SW 15th St., Forest Lake, or by e-mail to [email protected] Letters should not exceed 250 words and must be signed with the writer’s name, address and telephone number. Deadline is noon Monday. The newspaper reserves the right to edit letters and assure that rules of libel and good taste are not violated.


Extension Not Earned

Recently our mayor and city administrator asked the Minnesota House Taxes Committee to extend TIF District 21 for 10 more years.

Not widely understood, the purpose of a TIF district is to pool property tax money that would otherwise be distributed proportionately amongst our city, county and schools into a fund specific to that district. This fund is then managed by the city and is to be used to spur development within that specific TIF district.

One area that is within TIF District 21 is the Northland Mall site. After collecting TIF money for 23 years the city now wants to collect it for another 10. As taxpayers we should be asking, after 23 years of the city collecting funds to develop this area, what do we have to show for it?

The promise to taxpayers when advocating for TIF is that once it expires there will be a viable, high-property-tax-paying development in that area. When it comes to the Northland Mall site we rather have an undeveloped mall slotted to become a non-revenue-producing municipal campus.

So where did the money go? The city will tell you that everything is above board because the county and school district have given their blessing. However both these entities have the power to levy higher taxes to cover their losses to TIF districts. I commend Councilman Ben Winnick for testifying against extending TIF District 21. It is time to hold our local government accountable for its spending.

Cassi Piper
Forest Lake
(Editor’s note: The writer was a plaintiff in the lawsuit involving the city’s acquisition of the Northland Mall site.)


Necessary Spending?

Senator Nienow is on record as being very concerned about government waste and excessive spending. All those that drive to work in the metro would not have had the opportunity to see him driving to the Capitol to do our business, because he is billing the Minnesota taxpayers $12,700 for him to have an apartment in the cities for the whole year, while his residence in Cambridge is 53.64 miles from the Capitol!

And this is a legislature that meets less than half the year and this is a senator who has many neighbors and constituents who work in the cities but drive home every night.

Historically, for the last 20 years none of our area senators took the lodging allowance, and in Sen. Nienow’s first term, he did not take the lodging itemization.

I wonder what has changed? It might just be he is being hit, just like the rest of us, and figures he is entitled for us to pay for an apartment in the cities to represent us.

Except, of course, many people believed his statements on accountability, and now we pay for his accountability by this questionable lodging expense.

All the Legislature’s expenses are public record. Look it up and then ask why he needs a year-round apartment that we pay for when he lives under 70 miles from the Capitol and most workers in the Senate District commute to work.

M.A. Madden

  • Phil Fishman

    M.A. Madden-

    While I appreciate that you are concerned with government spending and unnecessary expenditures, try not to use your political agenda to put forth poor analysis. Your analysis fails to include the amount Sen. Nienow is not seeking for milage reimbursement (which, as all of his constituents know, is significant considering that he would be commuting over 107 miles each day he has to appear) and applying it against the amount the $12,700 he is paying for an apartment so he can be closer to the Capitol to do the work that needs to be done. If I were that worried about government overspending on legislators, I would probably focus my complaints on what Gov. Dayton is spending to renovate the Governor’s mansion. Hint…It’s a lot more the $12,700.

    I’m fine with cutting excessive spending wherever possible… Let’s just not make it a partisan game. Sounds much like Obama reducing this pay by 5% so he too can show he is “feeling the pain”. You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you really think that Obama or Dayton are “suffering” and sacrificing like the middle class they claim to represent and fight for? Let me know when Dayton moves his (family) money back from South Dakota so he can be taxed like the “rich” he wants to go after and we can talk.

  • M.M.

    If TIF is not extended, your city property taxes will go up. Plain and simple. Simply scare tactics, and misinformation assuming county and school district would raise their portion. This is EXTENDING a current TIF not creating a new one so there is little plausibility to that statement. At least if it does fail and your local property taxes go up you will know who to “commend” thanks to this letter.

    • Eric Langness

      Clearly misinformation is something you support because that is exactly what you just did. Property tax rates for residents is within the control of the city council. One fact is that removing one of the highest paying properties (Northland Mall) off the tax rolls will cause everyone else to pay more. Is that a fact you just ignore?

  • Mike

    Ms Piper

    Could it be Councilman Winnick has a vested interest to see to it that the new city hall doesn’t get built?

    Maybe Councilman Winnick does not want the new city campus to be built because it will draw attention to his business’s eyesore scrap piles that will border the new city campus

    Maybe he fears the city hall construction will trigger a water runoff analysis in the area adjoining his business that may show his business’s water runoff is a pollution source going into Clear Lake through the drainage system behind the Northland Mall property and Councilman Winnick’s business.

  • M.M.

    Eric, you might be right but you are making a separate point from mine. TIF is good for a city regardless of your opinion on the mall purchase. To have a councilman speak against his own city in what is obviously a conflict of interest is ridiculous.

    • Eric Langness

      I’m glad that you can (almost) concede that my point is correct. You can call the county auditor (they do the city property valuations) and ask what the top paying properties in town were for 2012. Simply put, unless the city plans to reduce expenses for the amount of reduction in property taxes paid by the Northland Mall properties (fat chance!) it causes all other property owners in town to pay that much more.

      I’ll admit that TIF is not my expertise but my understanding from others is that when a TIF district is formed that it pulls a tax base from those district properties, raises taxes and then the money is to be spent to ‘improve’ that district. I could be wrong, and please do show me with a source if I am, but understand that when these districts are formed that a portion of those property taxes are not contributed to the cities general fund, ultimately causing the rest of the city to pay more.

      Lastly, TIF districts were historically created to revitalize an area or spur development of an area. Never were they created to be a steady tax base.

  • Mike

    From the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program 2007

    Potential Sources of Pollution

    The industrial sites throughout the City have been identifies to be potential contributor to pollution in the City, especially the Winnick Supply site, which discharges to Clear Lake and potential, has degraded its water quality.

  • Mike

    From the Feb, 2012 Clear Lake Diagnostic Study and Management Plan

    5.2.5 Winnick Ditch Outfall

    Currently there is an open ditch running adjacent to the Winnick property (Figure 5.12). The
    ditch takes runoff from subwatershed 20; the Winnick property and the Northland Mall property in subwatershed 13; and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wetland 82-183W flowing under Hardwood Creek Trail and Forest Road through a CMP before directly connecting to Clear Lake. Previous analysis in this area was completed by Emmons and Olivier Resources (EOR) and the Rice Creek Watershed District in 2007 (Appendix C) and by Bonestroo in 2009
    (Appendix D).

    The options considered in the previous EOR analyses were to expand ponding provided on the Northland Mall site or to reroute the runoff from subwatershed 20 into the DNR wetland 82-183W. The options presented in the Bonestroo report expand on the rerouting option presented in the previous study by suggesting two alternative locations for a bypass manhole. Three options were presented for each alternative with various storm sewer layout configurations. In addition to rerouting the flow into the wetland Bonestroo suggested to replace the existing Winnick Ditch with a buried pipe and overland swale. The option to divert stormwater to DNR wetland was ruled-out after initial meetings with the DNR. However, the options to divert flows to a new pond on the Northland Mall property, or put the entire ditch into a pipe, remained viable.
    Approximately 284 pounds of TP are generated from subwatersheds 20, 14, and 13 which are
    drained by the Winnick Ditch. The amount of load reduction that can be offered by the wetlandas suggested in the projects in either of these reports depends on the function of the wetland as a source or a sink for phosphorus. Before any assumption can be made regarding the function of this wetland in terms of stormwater treatment, additional water quality data and soil testing is needed.

    Figure 5.12. Winnick Property and monitoring site for ditch outfall.
    Estimated Cost: $600,000
    Funding Source: RCWD

  • Cameron Piper


    I find it ironic that you accuse my wife of misinformation and scare tactics when it is obvious that you are the one either intentionally misinforming people or simply don’t understand TIF yourself.

    You state in your response that if the district is not extend that “property taxes will go up”. You simply couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If the district is allowed to expire, taxes will go down for everyone – at least in theory. It is possible that the city will take the additional funds to the general fund and spend them on increased spending rather than lowering taxes. However, the net effect of a TIF district expiring is that all tax payers will see a break because the portion that was considered the increment will be returned to the tax based and divided among the city, county and school district.

    The 2013 Budget for The City of Forest Lake can be found here:{2AFDA1F7-FAED-4604-9E65-BDA515906B00}&DE={0E71AD8B-ED3D-4E57-AEB5-767BC95C3A38}

    Page #2 of the adopted budget shows line item #303 as TIF District #21. You will note that revenue (the increment) from that district is roughly $770K for 2013. If the district is allowed to expire rather than be extended for another 10 years, that means that $770K will be available to the city, county and school district for use in their budgets requiring (at least in theory) $770K less in taxes from everyone else.

    If you would like to do some further reading on TIF, its intended uses, and how it works, a couple of great articles can be found on the MN Legislature’s website at:

    After reading them you will note why my wife, Councilman Winnick, and I are all opposed to the city’s continued misuse and mismanagement of the funds from TIF 21. I was told recently in a meeting with our mayor that the majority of the funds from TIF 21 were used on the Broadway improvements and the roundabout at Highway 61 and Broadway. Both appear to be valid expenditures of government funds, but do not meet the “but-for” test required of TIF expenditures. Additionally, neither have done anything to spur development directly on any of the properties in TIF 21. Remember that the purpose of TIF is to increase tax base by defraying development costs in the district, not as a slush fund to pay for road improvement projects.

    Cameron Piper