On Oct. 26, four of the six people seeking the two at-large Board of Estimate and Taxation seats — Carol Becker, Michael Martens, DeWayne Townsend and Phil Willkie — took part in a candidate forum. Here are some highlights.
On the referendum that would replace the board’s membership with the City Council: The four were emphatically against the charter amendment. Becker said that if it were to pass, “very quickly we won’t have an independent Park Board.” (Currently, the Park Board is represented in the Taxation Board’s membership. It wouldn’t were the referendum to pass.) Willkie said the charter change would amount to less transparency and that the referendum is the reason he entered the race. He said it’s essentially a tool for the city to eliminate the Park Board. Townsend and Martens agreed that the Park Board would probably end up disappearing. “It may not happen right away,” Townsend said. “Five years sounds like a reasonable amount of time.”
On other possible changes to the board’s membership: Each of the candidates suggested the board expand by at least one member. Until the Minneapolis Library Board’s elimination last year, there were a total of seven members on the board. Becker said that during that time, when there were an odd seven rather than an even six members, actions seemed more balanced. She suggested adding a second Park Board member, preferably one of the at-large commissioners. Willkie said he started out believing the extra member should be from the Park Board but that he now believes it should be a separately elected citizen, one who comes “directly from the people.” Townsend said he wishes it could be a representative from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program but that that’s very unlikely. He said he supports adding an extra separately elected citizen. So did Martens.
On the proposed 11.3 percent property tax increase for 2010: Martens said that increasing property taxes by 8 percent every year for 10 years would mean a doubling of property taxes every decade. He said he supports property tax increases that match the rate of inflation. Becker, who currently sits on the board, voted against the 11.3 percent cap. She said she would have preferred no more than a 4 percent increase.
On tax-increment financing’s role in paying for neighborhoods and the Target Center: The City Council is expected to decide how much it wants to recertify of a tax-increment financing district that funded the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. By state law, revenue from the district would only be able to go toward neighborhoods and paying off debt on the Target Center. Less properties within the district means more properties on the city’s tax rolls, meaning less pressure on taxpayers as a whole. It’s that last issue that bothered many of the candidates. Martens said he doesn’t support recertifying the district, that the Target Center and neighborhoods should fight for the same dollars as any other issues in the city’s budget. “I believe in keeping things simple,” he said. Becker said there are better funding sources than tax-increment financing. Willkie said he wouldn’t have supported public dollars going toward the Target Center, which is mainly a privately used building. Townsend broke from the pack: He said he would want all of the district to be recertified so that neighborhoods could get adequate funding.
On the candidates’ top priorities, aside from the referendum: Martens said he would like for there to be four of five auditors reporting to the board, not one. He also said the board should reach out to citizens by traveling to neighborhoods for their meetings. Becker said the board could help in improving the testy city-Park Board relationship. She also would try to fix what she said is understaffing of the internal audit function. Willkie and Townsend agreed improving auditing is important. Townsend said he also would try to get a better board website online, one that features minutes and agendas. He also said he wants the city budget to become more understandable for “younger citizens” to improve public input.