Hot Buttons

Ward 11 candidates address smoking ban, ballpark, property taxes and more

Across the city, throughout Southwest, and in Ward 11, there are hot button issues candidates might be eager to push or anxious to avoid. We've chosen a few and asked Benson and Iverson to tell us where they stand on airport issues, the I-35W access project, property taxes, zoning regulations and more.

Smoking ban: keep it or change it?

Benson said there are few bars in his ward and noted that many of them prohibited smoking even before the ban. He added that he hasn't seen information documenting any negative effect caused by the ban. In fact, he said he's gotten many positive comments about the ban. "The support is nine-to-one in favor of it," he said.

Iverson begs to differ on the ban. "I think there needs to be some modifications," he said.

He suggests that bars have nonsmoking sections in lieu of a citywide ban on smoking anywhere in any bar.

County ballpark plan

A proposal to use a county sales tax money to support a new downtown Twins stadium has pitted those who see the stadium as a business boon against those who oppose public subsidies for wealthy team owners.

The city does not vote on the plan, but Benson said, "I wouldn't have voted for it."

He said it's crucial for the city to capture the revenue benefits of having a ballpark here, such as collecting entertainment taxes. He said it's also important for the city to keep its zoning authority.

Benson also cautioned that "if [a ballpark] happens, we have to be vigilant to make sure the city's interests are protected."

Iverson needed clarification on theballpark proposal. He then stated that the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the park. "I really think that the owners and players ought to pay money [for the stadium]," he said.

I-35W Access Project: support it or not?

The I-35W Access Project would move ramps from 35th and 36th streets to 38th Street and add a bus rapid transit (BRT) line to Lakeville and stations along the corridor edging Southwest.

Benson said he's concerned about moving ramps south, even though they're outside of the ward. "That starts impinging on traffic flow into my neighborhood," he said.

Benson applauds the state's inclusion of a BRT line (at the city's urging) adding that the completion of a Lake Street BRT station is essential for the project.

Iverson differs from Benson on this point. He said the focus should not be on bus transportation but on light-rail transit (LRT).

"The city should be focusing more on LRT," he said, adding that BRT would mostly benefit people in the suburbs.

Benson said the city asked for LRT in the corridor, but couldn't get the state to sign on. "Our [Council] resolution says we wanted it," he said.

In 2004, Iverson's father was killed in an accident with an LRT car. Iverson said his elderly father was driving despite having sight and hearing problems. He said it's hard to deal with the topic of elderly drivers, but he said he does not take issue with LRT over the incident.

Property taxes: raise them or lower them?

Property taxes have risen annually up to the 8 percent overall city cap. Iverson said the city should lower property taxes, while Benson said only that he hopes the city can.

Iverson said lowering the property tax rate is realistic, but the state has to cooperate by restoring local government aid (LGA). But he did place some responsibility on the city: "We maybe overspend on a lot of things," he said.

Benson agreed that the city needs more LGA if it wants to lower property taxes. He said due to little help from the state, the city's Public Safety and Public Works departments are suffering.

City employee wage cap: keep it or change it?

The two candidates differ on whether to keep the 2 percent cap on annual pay increases for city employees.

Benson said the cap needs to stay. "If we receive more government aid, that cap might go to the wayside, but we're not there yet," he said.

Iverson said he thinks the cap is fair, but could use some tweaking. He said he doesn't feel it takes into account issues for workers, such as the rising cost of living due to increases in health care expenses. He suggested adjustments to the cap need to be made to account for health care costs.

Building height: should the city be stricter or not?

While it hasn't been as big of an issue in the 11th Ward as in the rest of Southwest (Uptown in particular), restraining building heights and development - mostly for condos - has become a hot button in 2005.

Iverson said that in the face of tall, proposed developments, he favors lower, two-story buildings, which he said could be "more efficient."

Benson's take on building height was different: "Luckily, the airport limits a lot of our height," he said with a chuckle.

He added that it's important to develop density in the city. Benson said he understands concerns about high-rise projects right next to single-family homes, but that taller buildings are appropriate along transit lines.

New stormwater fees

The city changed its utility bills this year, creating separate bills for sanitary sewers and storm drains, adding a charge for runoff generated by hard surfaces. The change is supposed to be revenue-neutral, but there are winners and losers.

Benson said he supports the change and gives credit to the Council for working on it. He added that the fee should be based on how much each property generates, instead of the old method, which he said ended up charging multi-unit dwellings more than was fair. He added that the incentives to reduce runoff - such as the installation of rain gardens - are "great."

Iverson said he agrees on the fee, but added that residents should take it upon themselves to maintain stormwater quality too. "We need to clean up a little bit here," he said.

A library tax for longer hours?

Iverson said he'd support adding a library tax to Minneapolis residents' bills so that libraries can be open longer. He said his neighborhood library has short hours, which he said isn't helpful to kids who'd utilize it for school. The city has focused too much on the Downtown library and not enough on local libraries, he said.

Benson said if the Library Board were to hold a referendum for a tax, "People could vote for whatever they want."

He said it's his view that with other funding needs, such as public safety, "you have to prioritize."

Benson also said, however, that he wouldn't trust the Library Board to manage a tax. "Some of these [financial] problems are of the Library Board's own making."

The airport: How would you lessen airport noise?

Iverson said he'd push for quieter planes and for the MAC to stick to its promises on issues of home insulation. He also said that residents should not have to deal with fuel being dumped from descending planes.

"You can smell it in the air in the wintertime," he said.

Benson said his first goal is to resolve the lawsuit with the MAC to insulate homes from air traffic noise. Like Iverson, he said he'd also push for quieter engines.

"If we're stuck with this airport, we need to work on making it quieter," he said.

Benson also said the city must look to the future with the 2020 Vision plan for the airport, which is expected to project dramatically increased flight operations.