Tony NelsonHere is a profile on 3rd Ward city council incumbent Tony Nelson.
Q: Please share with us your background information, including information about your family, your education, your career and community and government involvement.
A: I am a lifelong Hastings resident, married with two boys. I graduated from Hastings High School and then earned my Bachelor of Science in accounting from the University Wisconsin at River Falls. Currently, I am a taxation analyst (property taxes) for Dakota County. I am also a self-employed tax preparer.
I am just finishing up my first four-year term as Ward 3 Councilmember. As the incumbent, I am currently serving on the Finance (Budgeting), Parks/Joint Powers (Joint Powers with the school and the Senior Center), Operations (Street Projects), and Utilities (Garbage and Recycling) committees. Also, I enjoy coaching my two sons’ youth sports teams.
Q: What makes the city of Hastings a good place in which to live and work?
A: Hastings is a great historic community. Hastings is a small town with over 20,000 residents. We have everything we need right here in Hastings, but we are not that far away from the Twin Cities. Being a lifelong resident, I have seen many changes in our town. We need to make sure we maintain our historic small town charm as we grow into the future.
Q: Each year, the city agrees to a certain number of infrastructure projects, including street improvements and water line upgrades. Is this a good plan? How can it be improved?
A: As a member of the operations committee, this is a question we address every year before bringing our recommendation to the entire council as to which roads will be improved. The main thing is to remember that we only have so much money to spend every year so we try to set top priority to the roads that are in the roughest shape and have water and sewer pipe failures underneath those roads. I know having your road torn up for the summer is a huge inconvenience. We work on keeping our list up to date as to when we anticipate a project will be three or five or even 10 years out. Of course, we keep the list flexible to account for a change in plans if a road has deteriorated beyond what the normal patching can fix. About 25 percent of the funding of the roads will come directly from the property owners in the form of a special assessment. As an operations committee member, we have reduced the amount of the per foot dollar charged to the property owner because the last few years have turned out with very competitive bids on our projects. This is a way we pass those savings onto the owners. The other 75 percent comes from a mix of water and sewer funds, potential state aid, and borrowing the money that all taxpayers will pay as part of the ongoing budget. Over the last four years we have made some improvements to our processes to achieve lower prices and yet a quality road project.
The industrial park was recently redone and we worked hard with the property owners and city staff to achieve some savings so the assessments were lower while still getting a brand new street.
Another project that attracted a lot of attention was when the Pleasant Drive project was redone. I worked hard on keeping the option of the round-about from not being part of the final plans. A four-way stop was much cheaper and still makes the corner by the Pleasant and Highway 55 a very safe crossing for all.
Q: The city parks and recreational facilities get top marks. How can we ensure that continues?
A: As current chair of the Park and Recreation/Joint Powers committee I take great pride in what we offer our residents and visitors for park and recreation options. One of the reasons why we have such great parks, trails and recreational opportunities is because we have a very hard working city staff and a parks commission that is made up of volunteer residents that meet on a monthly basis to address parks issues and discuss new ideas.
The commission advises the council on parks issues while the staff is out there getting the work done. Recently the city just opened the new trail segment that allows a safe crossing underneath Highway 47 by the Vermillion River Bridge by 31st Street. That was a project that took years to get all of the pieces in place and showed a great collaboration among the city, property owners, county and state. There are many other examples of parks with new equipment and improvements to the tennis courts, the outdoor pool and Veteran’s Park complex. The fact that I and the rest of the current council are committed to funding this part of the budget is why Hastings has such great facilities. The way to ensure the ongoing success of the park and recreation options is simple: provide the funding necessary. There are more needs than money so the hard part from year to year is to determine what the priorities are. And there are more wants than money so what new features should we have in Hastings?
In the future, funding will be one of the tough questions the council will have to address. I have worked hard over the last four years on these issues and I want to be part of those discussions for the next four years.
Q: Are the city’s financial issues being addressed correctly? How should an increased demand for services with a growing population be addressed?
A: As a member of the finance committee we spend many hours going over the budget from year to year before we make a recommendation to the full council. The budget meetings are tough. I might have a different tolerance as to what I believe the annual budget for Hastings should be than the other members, but it is important to work together to determine what needs to be addressed from year to year. We have to weigh the needs and wants of the different city departments against what we as taxpayers are willing to pay for. Again, all hard work and we make very tough decisions. Over the last four years we have had two budget decreases and two small increases, and the number of city employees has decreased. In this time, we have not decreased city services.
I think we are doing a great job with taxpayer dollars. In the end the council decides what the budget will be, but it is our hard working city staff that keeps our city running as well as it does. Our population growth has slowed, but with a growing population comes a bigger tax base to help with any increase demands in services.
Q: How can the city’s tax base be broadened to decrease the property tax burden?
A: The city of Hastings (along with all cities in Minnesota) recently was affected by a change at the state level that replaced the homestead credit with a market valuation credit, which places more burden on the residents to support the city’s budget with their property taxes. Prior to this change, Hastings lost all of LGA (Local Government Aid) from the state of Minnesota.
1) The reason I bring these up, is because Hastings used to receive some property tax relief from the State, but this is no longer the case and it places a majority of the budget responsibility on the residents and business owners in the city in the form of property taxes and fees the city must charge in order to balance the budget. As far as broadening the tax base goes, I think that once the bridge is finished business will realize how easy it is to move goods into and out of Hastings. I also think that the city council voting to buy the old Hudson Manufacturing building a while back was the right thing to do. Eventually we will be working on redeveloping that whole area. When will this happen? Well that is the hard part because of so many economic factors involved, but obviously the sooner we work to get that area back on the tax rolls the better it will be for all.
Q: Why should the voters on Nov. 6 mark their ballots for you as their city councilmember?
A: I have worked hard over the last four years as the Ward 3 Councilmember. In these four years we had two years of budget decreases from the previous year’s budget (in 2010 and 2011) the other two years were very small increases. In 2009 we had a city staff of about 120 full time employees; in 2012 we have about 107. City services have not been reduced in this time frame.
Point being, in my first four years I have worked with city staff, the other councilmembers, and the mayor in reducing city government finances. It takes a team effort and I have worked well with all groups. It takes many meetings, long hours, the ability to work in a group and hard work to be a councilmember for Hastings. I have met these challenges in my first four years and have really enjoyed myself.
I am looking forward to the next four years. I am not afraid to make the hard decisions and do what I believe is best for Ward 3 and the city of Hastings. I listen to my constituents and have enjoyed the many phone calls and emails over the last four years. I am counting on your vote on Nov. 6 for another four years.