Bloomington Mayor Winstead Presents "State of the City"

Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead presented a “State of the City” summary to a mostly-over-60 audience at the Bloomington Community Center on March 28.  As noted in a Sun Current article, the mayor feels that Bloomington has an “image” or “public perception” problem rather than significant specific issues that need to be corrected. (Based on an 2016 survey completed by about 1,000 Bloomington households, summarized on city’s website here)

Mayor_Winstead_with_Sawyer_Haaland_mayor-for-a-day_1.jpgImportantly, the city plans a property tax levy increase of $50 million, principally for storm water system improvements and new trails.  We note that the big-picture city financial report ignores the $4.1 million in Franchise Fees first collected in 2016.  The fee imposition was justified to cover maintenance of roads & trails pavement. A request for Franchise Fee detail at the meeting was acknowledged by the city manager a week later, but information was not provided in time for inclusion in this article.

The Cedar Avenue historic bridge reconstruction project was very costly -- $13 million.  $1 - $2 million was covered by property taxes.  The rest came from Mall of America taxes paid into the state’s Fiscal Disparities funding pool, disbursed back to Bloomington for the project.  The bridge was opened for pedestrian and bicycle use in 2016, but will be closed for the remainder of 2017 for road reconstruction and trailhead parking lot rebuilding.

Two major paved bike trails (one a state trail) will be constructed.  A Minnesota Valley 2-track paved trail along the river has $2.1 million in state funding.

Some points that came out during the meeting:

  • About 20% of the city’s residents are over 65 years old – about equal to those under 18 years old.  The average-age of the city is older than at times in the past, and it’s no longer a suburb of mostly young families.
  • The study for the proposed Community Center replacement concluded that the ideal location would be the property at 90th and Penn where the current Community Center is located. To fit on that property, it’s estimated that it could cost $50 million to build a multi-story structure and parking ramp that would encompass the many desired features: community meeting rooms, communal dining area for seniors, and indoor athletic activity areas including a swimming pool.  At that cost, this is not something the city feels it can tackle alone, so possible partnerships are being explored, especially with the YMCA.
  • The study of Hyland Greens Golf Course concluded that there were no major operational flaws leading to the $220 thousand annual cost deficiency, simply too few golfers using the course.  The Council decided to keep the golf course as part of the city’s park/recreation facilities, and is exploring whether single-level town homes could be developed on the East side to help offset the ongoing costs.
  • An audience member noted that Bloomington’s VEAP nonprofit food shelf use is the highest in the state, with more than 10,000 households having requested and been approved to utilize the service.  The audience member also stated that the majority of households are Latinos who are working, sometimes 2 jobs, but in low-pay / no-benefits positions at hotels. 
  • There are no plans to bring forward wage or benefit mandates at the city level. Winstead acknowledged that “Hospitality” (hotels, restaurants) is the largest industry in Bloomington.  The vast majority of those jobs, by design, are typically entry-level and part-time.  Pay is above the $15/hour minimum wage proposed by other metro cities.
  • The city’s unemployment rate is 3.4 %, a point below the national average.  2016 was a year of business construction & grand openings, including hotels, Hoglund Bus Company and a major expansion to add a Theater at the Masonic Home.  A recent survey of city businesses found that 93% intend to remain in Bloomington.  CRAY computers just moved into the city in March 2017.
  • Home prices have recovered to pre-2007 levels.  Houses are currently selling in about 28 days.  On average, Bloomington residents have been in their current home 17 years.
  • 16 Bloomington parks will get replacement playground equipment for currently 25-year-old structures.  Picnic tables, benches and bike racks will also be added.
  • Construction on Normandale Boulevard is expected to be completed by June 2018.  The city is adding center turn lanes, medians and walking/bike paths.

Video for Mayor Winstead’s full presentation to the (paying) Bloomington Chamber of Commerce audience March 22 is not yet posted on the city website, but this is the link to a promotional “feel good” video that was shown at the start of the event.

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