Six years of balanced budgets • No operating deficits • Healthy fund balances
Aaa rating from Moody's indicating strong financial operations
2nd Safest City in recent MN poll • Strong support for our police and fire
Renewed focus on our park system including creating Orono's first dog park Major improvements to Navarre: new LED streetlights and signalized crosswalk
Repaired major city roads economically including Watertown, Orono Orchard, North Willow
Eliminated cable public access fee and lowered septic fee • Reduced engineering costs
Hardcover and wetland buffer ordinances revised to be less burdensome for owners while still providing protection of the open space and natural areas that make Orono special
Enhanced transparency • Videotaping and live streaming of council meetings
Eliminated cable public access fee and lowered septic fee • Reduced engineering costs Networking with other agencies to find grant money and expertise to help Orono
As 2016 candidates for elected office in Orono, we would like to respond to recent newspaper articles regarding the election. The three-judge panel from the Office of Administrative Hearings concluded that the widely distributed OronoWatch4U published during last November’s election was carried out illegally to promote certain candidates.
Minnesota’s election laws are intended to ensure that every candidate for office is afforded equal footing in elections, free of unethical campaign tactics. That did not happen in Orono’s 2016 election.
Anonymously spread misinformation not only violated campaign law but also subverted voter faith and confidence in a fair election process. Its chilling effect was felt throughout our community. Smear campaign strategies like this breed voter cynicism and discourage citizen participation in civic engagement. Unfair and callously partisan attacks, lacking accountability, have no place in local races. The judges concurred that OronoWatch4U violated election law, and it is our hope this ruling will serve as a future deterrent to illegal campaigning.
Former Mayor Lili McMillan
Former Council Member Lizz Levang
Former Council Member Jim Cornick
Background on the violation of election law that occurred in Orono.
A wonderful kickoff to autumn began with the second successful Navarre Community Festival on September 18th. Our Navarre Park was a perfect setting for an annual get together with free food by area businesses, jazz music by talented student musicians, activities for the children and beautiful weather which all contributed to a nice gathering for Orono residents. I want to thank our Navarre citizen volunteers, the local businesses and council members Levang and Cornick for organizing and running this event. After the Festival we walked down the street to celebrate the opening of the renovated Livingston Tower Park. Our Park Commission transformed a neglected park space into a vibrant garden setting with sitting areas amongst gardens designed to attract pollinators and provide attractiveness. These two examples of community involvement make our city a wonderful place to live. On behalf of our community I want to thank them for their efforts at helping our city gather and showcase Navarre.
Your city staff and council have been busy this year with the strong demand for housing and commercial development in Orono. We are seeing existing businesses remodel and new businesses locate to our community, especially noticeable in Navarre. Although new interest in our city can be a good problem to have, it is not without its challenges for those of us living here. Balancing the issues of allowing property owners their right to develop against the potential impacts of those changes have been an ongoing struggle. Development on vacant property is always difficult. We will continue to listen and find ways to be more proactive in these situations in order to strike the right balance.
Becoming involved in next year’s comprehensive plan update will be your opportunity to provide input and guidance into the visioning of future development in our city. This city management plan update comes at a critically important time. The cities surrounding Lake Minnetonka are witnessing increased development. This will be our community chance to discuss what density and scale we are comfortable having in our city. City staff and council will be seeking citizens’ participation in this revision with open houses and forums for citizens’ engagement. More details will be forthcoming in the next newsletter.
The repair of Watertown/Stubbs Bay Road from Willow to Turnham Road is now complete. This project repaired over three miles of roadway using the reclamation process, which was cost-effective and least disruptive to local access. With the recent drop in oil prices, we benefited from a significant reduction in actual cost for the project than what was originally estimated. The council is now focused on the repair of Fox Street. A feasibility study was conducted this summer and is posted on our website. Funding and repair options for this road are being discussed in preparation for next year’s budget.
As you may have heard, a strong coalition of public safety and elected officials have joined with private citizens dedicated to making Hwy 12 a safer road. I am pleased to report that progress has been made. Turn lanes are presently being added at the junctions of Highway 12 and County Road 92 in Independence. In October the bypass lane through Orono will be closed for the installation of a permanent concrete median barrier to prevent head-on collisions. This will result in all the bypass traffic being detoured to Co Road 112 (old Hwy 12) through Long Lake during the closure. This will cause congestion and delay but will be only temporary and in the best interests of long-term safety for the bypass. I am proud to be a part of this coalition, which has successfully demonstrated that citizens and government can work together for a very serious goal – creating a safer road corridor.
Our Park Commission was busy this summer preparing plans to add a new amenity, an off-leash dog area, to the Susan E. Lurton Park in the northwest section of the city. Wanting to have more activity at the park, the Lurton family proposed adding a fenced off-leash area for people and their dogs to enjoy the large space and natural environment. Noting resident interest for such a park, the commission studied various models and policies as they finalized their plans. Installation of the fencing is scheduled to be complete before winter with an official opening in the spring. Look for more details on the city’s website or in our next newsletter.
Coming up in November is the city council’s annual review of city codes. This is now an annual ongoing process to allow for outmoded or ineffectual code to be changed or eliminated and new code applied as needed. Potential ordinance revisions are identified, prioritized and slotted over the next 12 months into the public hearing process starting at the planning commission level. The city council welcomes feedback from you. Please submit your comment to Jeremy Barnhart at email@example.com. Thank you in advance for your concern.
In closing, I am appreciative of those who assist our staff and council in governing our city. We rely on the work of many efforts, often those who are unrecognized but equally important, to keep our city strong and vibrant.
I am pleased to report our city had another strong year in 2015 as evidenced by our excellent fiscal results and strong demand for residential housing. Keeping with the long-held tradition of conservative budget forecasting, preliminary results show our city netting a healthy surplus. Revenues are projected to exceed expenditures by $685,000. A large increase in building-related permits and fees, a profitable year for the golf course and higher than expected other governmental revenue contributed to revenue coming in $336,000 over budget. Our city staff achieved an additional $349,000 decline in budgeted departmental expenses. Housing demand in this residential community reflects a fiscally healthy city, with a low city tax rate, exceptional school districts, dedicated public safety and wonderful natural amenities reinforcing the strong desire many have to move and stay in Orono.
Systemic infrastructure repair was the notable theme for 2015. Road repair of Stubbs Bay and phase one of Watertown Road were the bigger items. Phase two of Watertown Road is planned for completion this summer. Baldur Park Road received a thorough repair of its roadbed damaged by the 2014 flooding, an expedited decision to take advantage of FEMA funding. Chemical treatment rooms in the city’s municipal water system were overhauled and repaired as part of a scheduled plan to keep the system up to date. The sewer system received attention with pipe relining, lift station overhaul and backup generators installed as needed. In general this year continued an orderly and measured emphasis on getting our infrastructure up to snuff within reasonable budget parameters and leveraging available outside funding.
Within the police department, the garage addition and interior remodel are functioning well for our officers and staff. Our department continues providing safe and responsive service to the community. The Orono police district received a 5th place ranking in the Minnesota Safest Cities report for cities greater than 5,000 residents. This report measures FBI data on the number of violent and property crimes divided by the city’s population.
Since 2011, the city staff and council have implemented many processes for reviewing, streamlining and guiding important governmental decisions. These processes are staggered throughout the year to ensure regular and comprehensive attention is applied to help navigate the complex and multi-faceted decisions. Let me highlight three of these processes.
The city budget is prepared and discussed over a four month-long period in work sessions. The process starts in June with the council identifying parameters and priorities for the upcoming budget year. Staff blends these suggestions with departmental requests to create a budget recommendation with various options, which then allows the city council and interested citizens ample time to discuss and refine the proposal. The city council has added a preliminary budget review at the first council meeting in September giving interested citizens time to review or comment prior to the adoption of the preliminary tax levy at the end of September. The final public hearing on the tax levy and budget is held at the first meeting in December.
For public works, director and city engineer, Adam Edwards initiated an annual public works plan that provides an increased level of detail and refinement on planning for upcoming projects. This is designed to improve the design, budgeting and coordination of work items and capital projects for the upcoming year. Embedded in the plan is a proactive inspection program that divides the city into five districts. Each year, in one of the districts, the public works infrastructure (water, sewer and storm water utilities, streets, parks and signage) is thoroughly reviewed and undergoes preventive maintenance by staff.
Review of the city code is now an annual ongoing process to allow for outdated or ineffectual code to be changed or eliminated and new code applied as needed. The planning commission, staff and city council annually identifies a list of code ordinances that may need review. The planning staff then prepares these suggestions, which are placed in the public hearing process starting with the planning commission meetings. The planning commission makes a recommendation based on staff and public input, which is then forwarded to the city council for final review and potential adoption.
In closing I wish to credit our park and planning commissioners for their hard work and volunteer time in helping shape our community. The city council appreciates these commissioners, our fellow citizens, for the work they do and volunteer time they spend to help shape the decisions in our community.
RECAP OF 2014
I wish to thank the city staff and council for a busy and productive 2014. We accomplished many positive outcomes with the right mix of proper planning, capital allocation and prudent management.
In addition to routine business, the City experienced a noticeable uptick in land developments, building activity and permits due to a recovering housing market. From a recent low of 10 new homes constructed in 2010, Orono has seen a steady increase in new homes being built. A total of 37 new single-family homes were permitted in 2014, slightly above our 25-year average of 33.8 homes per year. This figure includes single-family homes built on vacant lots and replacement of existing homes. Additionally seven new townhomes were constructed, for a total of 82 multi-family units built since 1999.
Within our business districts, various commercial properties attracted new businesses or launched building upgrades, helping to refresh and revitalize these locations. Navarre streetlights were replaced with energy efficient LED lights on shorter poles to create a brighter and more aesthetic lighting for the roadway and sidewalks along County Road 15. To the north, the City has started working with Hennepin County and Long Lake on the final design phase of the Wayzata Boulevard corridor as the County prepares to reconstruct sections of the road using monies from MnDot’s turnback fund.
Over the past 18 months, staff and council members diligently crafted and executed an update of our city campus. This project included the addition of a garage for the police squad cars, better working space for our police officers and a more efficient front lobby area for addressing the needs of our citizen visitors dropping by for information, meetings with staff and absentee voting. Equally important, this project corrected long-standing deficiencies with our deteriorating parking lot, an inconsistent HVAC system and lack of proper security for our public safety employees and city property. We now have a much-improved working environment for our staff and a more businesslike reception area for our citizens. The police and city hall staff are appreciative, as these updates make it easier for them to conduct their work in a more functional and efficient manner.
Another noteworthy infrastructure improvement included a thorough analysis of our two drinking water systems and a scheduled rehabilitation of the North Water Tower. Our 20-year-old water tower is in good shape with minimal corrosion so the minor repairs and new paint in 2014 is expected to keep this significant piece of infrastructure maintained for another two decades. Both the Navarre and North treatment buildings associated with our municipal wells will be upgraded in 2015 to comply with safety regulations and better delivery systems for chemicals needed in the water treatment process.
Roadwork in 2014 consisted of repairing damaged pavement on Rest Point Circle and Road. These roads were improved through the process of reclaiming which grinds and pulverizes the existing pavement down to the point where it creates a suitable base for a new bituminous surface. This is significantly less expensive and disruptive than reconstructing the road. In 2015, the same process will be used to repair Stubbs Bay Road starting from Bayside to Watertown Road and continuing east on Watertown to Old Crystal Bay Road.
All of the capital improvements through 2014 were accomplished with a zero increase to the property tax levy and maintaining appropriate reserve levels in our various operating funds. In March, we secured $5 million in bonds for our police garage, water system improvements and debt refunding at very favorable interest rates. Our stellar triple-A credit rating was reaffirmed.
Another notable accomplishment was the initiation of the new cable franchise accord with Mediacom which lead to 9 miles of broadband build out to underserved parts of the city. Mediacom plans to finish the additional nine miles in 2015. With this new agreement, the city council also ended the monthly public access fees the cable subscribers were charged under the old contract. Orono continues to lead the way in improving access to municipal information by maintaining a very detailed website, communicating via subscriber listservs, adding a third community newsletter and live-streaming our council meetings.
2014 continued the generous tradition of citizen-volunteer participation. A newly appointed group of volunteers re-established the city’s park commission. Their enthusiasm brings a renewed emphasis on maintaining and improving our park system. Many supporters of the Orono Golf Course stepped forward in 2014 with their energy and donations to revitalize the facility while celebrating its 90th anniversary. The results were most positive as the number of golf rounds played almost doubled and revenue increased 43% from 2013. Our loyal donation gardeners continued growing vegetables on city-owned land, producing over 2,000 pounds of food for donations to WeCan and the Gillespie Center. Although this is a brief list, I wish to thank all the volunteers throughout the city who have assisted our community in various ways in 2014.
As Orono celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, we were reminded of the natural beauty and scenic vistas that are present and valued today as much as they were in the past. In 1889 the town of Orono was created, carved out from the Medina and Excelsior townships. The city founders were concerned with preserving the rustic or “cottage” character along the north shore of Lake Minnetonka. Through its preservation of Lake Minnetonka and the surrounding countryside, Orono continues to uphold these values today.
RECAP OF 2013
In reviewing the accomplishments of last year, I want to thank the city council, our staff and citizens for a productive 2013. Our city continues to be managed with prudent fiscal oversight and attention to detail that serves our city well.
Highlights of 2013 include the successful integration of Mound to our police contract services, the launch of convenient single-sort recycling, the reconstruction of Willow Drive, relining over 4,000 ft of old sewer pipe, upgrading two sewer lift stations and new playground equipment at Bederwood Park. This was accomplished with zero increase to the property tax levy while retaining healthy reserves in our funds, protecting our high municipal credit rating.
2013 was a year of considerable focus towards improving the Navarre commercial district. City staff conducted four outreach meetings dedicated to Navarre concerns. As a direct result of the constructive comments of citizens, the Hennepin County Transportation Department designed an enhanced crosswalk and repaired the concrete pedestrian islands on County Road 15. The city is also in the process of gathering bids on 38 new streetlights for the area that should appear in early summer. The city council will continue this collaborative dialog with citizens and business owners in Navarre on future enhancements.
Our planning commission and city council continue working with staff to refine various land use ordinances. This past year saw simplification to regulations regarding wetland buffers and an expanded listing of allowed accessory uses and structures. Geothermal and solar panel systems are now governed under a new alternative energy ordinance. These changes are explained in more detail on our website.
Speaking of website, continued improvements have been made to increase the transparency of our decisions. Our website contains an extensive amount of material regarding our city governance as well as hosting live and archived video streams of our council meetings.
Looking ahead to 2014, we began analyzing the physical plant of our 22-year-old buildings on the city campus. Upgrades are needed to address issues to our mechanical systems, our parking lot and most importantly the lack of a police garage. This cold winter has highlighted the difficulties of keeping vehicles operational and protecting the sensitive electronic and medical equipment contained in each squad car. We are also reviewing the rehabilitation needs of our city water system and will continue to address road repair. We will be working hard in the coming months to find appropriate solutions to fund these outstanding issues.
As always, I like to end with a sincere acknowledgement of the volunteer work of our citizens. Some of the 2013 highlights for the city include a new dedicated group helping spruce up and improve operations at the Orono Golf Course. Ongoing in their third year, the Long Lake-Orono donation gardeners planted and harvested 1.5 tons of food for area seniors and social service agencies. Last November the city dedicated a new veteran’s memorial, which was designed, installed and paid for through the efforts a local Eagle Scout. We are fortunate for these projects, and the works of so many others that go unrecognized, for willingly providing efforts that strengthen our community.
RECAP OF 2012
I would like to ask for a few minutes of your time to recap the city of Orono's 2012 highlights and to identify our priorities for 2013. The city council and our staff continue to implement proper fiscal management policies for these difficult economic conditions. Both 2012 and 2013 budgets were constructed around a zero levy. Preliminary 2012 results are coming within budget forecasts. We reduced city engineering expenses significantly in 2012 by re-instating the public works/city engineer position and hiring our consultant engineer through a competitive bidding process. City staff worked diligently to seek and secure grants on behalf of the city. As a result, Orono obtained grants of $10,000 for Crystal Bay playground equipment, $78,000 for sewer repair and $165,000 for storm water improvements. We continue to plan practical infrastructure improvements by scrutinizing both the initial costs and the long-term maintenance/operation of these upgrades.
On January 1st, the Orono Police Department began providing contracted policing to the city of Mound. Last summer, Mound and Orono agreed to a contract, which works in the mutual interests of the cities by offering more robust coverage for the cities, administrative efficiencies of scale and more career opportunities with a larger department. The cost of the 10-year policing contract is paid by Mound and does not increase the tax levy for Orono citizens. We welcome the addition of new officers, including the reserve officers, into the Orono police department. Under Police Chief Farniok's leadership, his department now serves the 18,000 citizens of Minnetonka Beach, Mound, Spring Park and Orono.
A major revision of our hardcover ordinance was completed creating more simplicity and fairness for our lakeshore owners. Other changes in the past year included a new recycling contract switching the city to a single-sort system. On the volunteer side, a long-time resident and internationally recognized wildlife artist David Maass updated our city logo. Last summer, Orono/Long Lake volunteers grew 4,700 pounds of fresh produce on city land for donation to area food shelves.
Road repair was a high priority for 2012 and will continue to be a focus for many years due to the condition of our streets. Last summer, we addressed approximately 8 miles of our 30 miles of city streets through mill and overlay, seal-coating and reconstruction projects. The majority of the Orono Orchard Road reconstruction was completed in early December. Thanks to all those who patiently put up with the disturbance. The rebuilding was complex due to upgrading a major sewer line in conjunction with building the new roadbed. This project, in partnership with Met Council, resulted in a 25% savings of the road reconstruction cost for Orono. The Met Council benefited by having an important link in their regional sewer infrastructure updated while the roadbed was undergoing a major repair.
For 2013, Willow Drive between County Roads 112 (old highway 12) and 6 is on the docket for reconstruction this summer. The roadbed is severely lacking in any sub-base and is therefore very prone to breaking apart in large sections after the winter. This road will be repaired with state-aid funds the city receives as part of the State's constitutionally dedicated transportation taxes (i.e. taxes from gas, car tabs and motor vehicle sales).
Looking ahead to this year, the city council is initiating a meeting process to reach out to Navarre citizens and business owners on how to improve the corridor along County Road 15. A series of bi-monthly meetings, conducted by our staff, are planned with the first meeting on Feb 11th at City Hall to discuss possible streetscape improvements for both safety and aesthetics. Please check the city's email list for notification of upcoming meetings, agendas and updates on our website titled Navarre Area Updates under ‘Stay Connected - Email Updates’. The City Council looks forward to citizen suggestions for improvements benefitting the Navarre neighborhood
Our cable franchise agreement is up for renewal this year. The council will be aggressively exploring options to increase the availability of cable broadband within pockets of the city not covered today.
On January 14th of this year, we welcomed Lizz Levang and Kristi Anderson to the dais as our new council members. This council presents with over 130 years of combined residency to guide our city forward.
I am, and will always be, grateful to those who assist my fellow council members and me in governing our city. Decisions, priorities and time constraints are often hard to juggle. I truly appreciate the understanding, guidance and volunteer support we receive from our citizens.
2011 YEAR END LETTER
In this season of giving thanks, I ask for a few minutes of your time to express my gratitude as I complete my first year as mayor of Orono. I appreciate the advice, support, feedback and encouragement I have received from many of my fellow citizens. The feedback, some of it difficult at times, has been delivered to me in a manner of being helpful and concerned, seeking to find a solution. There is enormous value in this approach for which I am most grateful.
I want to touch on a few of the outcomes of this year's governing decisions. A strong emphasis is being placed on analyzing city expenditures and studying how effective essential services are being delivered. We are being increasingly proactive by identifying ways to prolong infrastructure through maintenance or essential repair, outlining and planning capital projects over time and scrutinizing costs for contracted services.
Subsequent implementation of our Capital Improvement Plan will identify our future equipment and capital expenditures. Framing Orono’s fiscal needs over a ten-year horizon promotes discipline, facilitates prioritizing of departmental expenditures and drives the rationale for future spending decisions.We have reevaluated our road repair program in order to maximize the amount of cost effective repair we can do in the near term. The city council reduced the scope of the Old Crystal Bay Road project north of Highway 12 to a mill and overlay repair to take place next summer. The savings from this decision will free up additional designated money to repair another state-aid funded road in the near future. Also scheduled in the improvement plan for 2012 is Orono Orchard Road. It will be repaired in partnership with the Met Council who will be adding and paying for a parallel sewer line under the road to provide redundancy for their system. In this partnership, Met Council will also pay 26% of the road reconstruction costs, reducing the projected cost for Orono by $400,000.
I am pleased to report that the property tax levy will not increase in 2012. We will continue to monitor and conservatively budget variable revenue such as building and permit fees recognizing that the economy is still weak. The city's overall tax base declined approximately 7.7% in the 2012 assessment. Careful attention needs to be paid on managing the city's functions for the duration of this downturn, being mindful of the tax burden on our residents and businesses. The Orono legacy of prudent fiscal management is never more appreciated than now when times are difficult.
Emphasis has been placed this year on making the governing process more transparent and encouraging citizen involvement. The current city council unanimously approved televising our meetings which are available certain times on cable or anytime via web streaming. The city website has been updated to include capital projects, budgets and events highlighted with links to more detailed information. Our staff is dedicated to providing communications on all the different avenues now available such as print, email lists and social media. On behalf of the council, I want to thank our staff for helping us prioritize the importance of scheduling efficient and orderly processes for public comment on city projects and issues through informational meetings, open houses and opportunities for written comment.
In closing I would like to acknowledge and thank the special work of our citizen volunteers. A task force group has been reviewing the relevancy of our planning ordinance relating to hardcover on lakeshore property. Another group of area citizens created a vegetable garden on unused city land, donating all produce to local food shelves and senior homes. Another group spent a day doing chores on Big Island Park. One of our citizens, a wildlife artist, is helping update our city logo. And we are encouraging a citizens group to formalize and gather suggestions to enhance Navarre's commercial area. This is nowhere near indicative of all the volunteer effort that our citizens provide for the community as a whole, most often unrecognized but equally important, from picking up litter alongside our roads to delivering meals on wheels for seniors. These actions, with or without government, help define and strengthen our community.