Wednesday July 6th 2022

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The Rand Report: Special service districts on Lake St. create inefficiences

By Rand Retterath

According to an Information Brief from Research Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives 

“One way for a city to provide an increased level of service or infrastructure to its commercial or industrial areas is to create ”˜special service districts.”'  Special service districts (SSDs) are established at the request of the persons who will pay for the increased level of service. Since the early 1980s, individual cities have been authorized to set up these districts. Since 1996, cities have had general law authority to create SSDs.

“A special service district is ”˜a defined area within the city where special services are rendered and the costs of the special services are paid from revenues collected from service charges imposed within that area.”' An SSD may be established anywhere in a city but only business property (i.e., commercial, industrial, utility, or land zoned for commercial or industrial use) will be subject to the service charge. SSDs are commonly used in areas with a concentration of retail stores.”

It is not a bad idea, it provides services that are not ordinarily provided throughout the city from general funds or services provided at an increased level than otherwise provided.

Generally, to establish a Special Service district, owners of 25% or more of the property within the area complete a petition and file it with the city.  This includes 25% of the tax capacity or entities subject to the additional tax.

The filing would include delineation of the area as well as services to be provided.  The city notifies all affected business and commercial entities of the filing, a hearing is scheduled and objections noted.

The proposal can effectively be defeated if 35% or more within the land area that would be subject to the additional fees file objections.

Assuming it passes this muster, fees are then assessed through service charges and are completely separate from tax assessments.

On paper, this idea has merit when re-invigorating retail commercial areas such as Lake Street in Minneapolis, preventing a reincarnation of Woodward Ave from Detroit (a comparison I have made all to frequently). They allow the districts to tailor services to special needs, create a direct measurable link of costs to benefits, and provide more immediate response to constituent needs.

However, there are some drawbacks that are CLEARLY VISIBLE on Lake Street. Among them, Special Service Districts (SSD) can create inefficiency.  They can also hinder regional planning and finally they decrease accountability.

Imagine my surprise (and I hope yours) when I discovered that there was no SSD between 5th Avenue and Blaisdell Avenue along Lake Street.

Continuing my surprise, I immediately associated the desperately different appearance of Lake Street within that area from all others and to specific individuals.

In this area I routinely see overflowing trash cans, the cans are sitting exactly on the curbs, 5th Ave in both directions is festooned with trash, needles and condoms.  There is a mysterious pole, stuck in concrete that has been there for years often obstructing traffic. On 5th Avenue and Clinton Avenue, you can routinely purchase sex and drugs.  Some argue that this is ground zero for the trades.

One block club leader is inundated with panhandlers, frequently abrasive and offensive in their approach.

Trash litters the gutters and new construction such as the Fifth Ave parking ramp remains unfinished while existing property remains unrepaired.

The difference extends even to the discontinuation of the Lake Street Roadway Redevelopment efforts.  Street lights go unrepaired.  Tree wells are grossly unplanted and the former iron works surrounding them are embarrassing, in gross disrepair and very possibly dangerous.  With many of these tree wells, exposed wiring sticks up from the ground from a time when not only did the trees exist, but were festively lit akin to the areas further west.

What can we conclude about this anomaly on Lake Street?  The difference is PROFOUND and is isolated to just this area.

One property owner dominates this area to such a degree as to impede any process to develop an SSD in this area.  In addition to this, there was an effort to create a single contiguous SSD from Minnehaha to the freeway.  This is entirely a reasonable effort that is grounded in sound business acumen. It is blocked completely by this same property owner.

And there is one strategic relationship between one council person and this same property owner. This relationship extends to voter intimidation, financial support, previous federal bribery convictions and much more.

The result is the creation of this supremely blighted area, the creation of maladaptive street activities and a community in pain.  It is so obvious.

Here, though, is what bothers me the most.  This complete and depraved disregard of civic responsibility creates an environment where the new residents to Minneapolis from a cornucopia of ethnic and racial environments are unfairly preyed upon economically through substandard business environments.  It also creates an environment where no single woman is safe from harassment during some parts of the day.  Pay attention to the number of women running the gauntlet in the morning. They are frequently with children and often with bags.  Statistically, they can”'t all be late for work.

We need to hold people who are supposed to represent US and the community accountable for such disgusting behavior.  This, simply put and in the eyes of this author, is simply another form of racism”¦economic racism!  And I for one am disgusted by it.  Please take a moment to e-mail the entire council since our”'s favors her career over our welfare and demand that the same standards that exist on the rest of Lake St, be applied to this single odd section.

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