Sunday liquor sales, transportation and regulation of water are among the priority issues for Eden Prairie city staff and elected officials as the 2017 legislative session approaches.
Three of Eden Prairie’s newly elected or returning legislators met with the Eden Prairie City Council during its Dec. 6 workshop. City Manager Rick Getschow said the council and city employees have met to talk with legislators in December for about the past four or five years.
District 48 Senator-elect Steve Cwodzinski, District 48B Rep. Jenifer Loon, and District 48A Representative-elect Laurie Pryor spoke during the meeting. District 49 Sen. Melisa Franzen and District 49B Rep. Paul Rosenthal were unable to attend.
Getschow outlined some of the 2017 legislative initiatives from the city and Municipal Legislative Commission which include three main categories: promoting accountability and transparency in state and local fiscal relationships; investing in transportation and jobs, and supporting local control.
The legislators and the council discussed Sunday liquor sales and regional agencies that regulate municipal activities for water supply and quality and storm water, which fall under the local control category of priorities. They also talked about light rail transit and local bus transit service.
According to a document outlining legislative priorities, the city is asking legislators to oppose Sunday liquor sales. “The city feels that while some level of convenience would be provided, the overall benefits do not outweigh the costs. We feel the result is that six days of sales will be spread over seven days of expenses,” it states.
Cwodzinski said he would have to do more research about a Sunday liquor sale proposal. He added that it was “a second tier issue for a lot of people,” when he was out door-knocking during the election.
“I would like to know more about how Total Wine has cut into you guys,” he said.
City Council member Kathy Nelson said taxes would go up if the city didn’t have the revenues from its municipal liquor stores. Those dollars support items such as parks and roads.
“People are going to have to pay for it out of their pocket. So, it’s going to cost every homeowner in town if we don’t have as much,” she said.
City Council member Ron Case asked the legislators not to “walk away hard and fast” with an opinion about Sunday liquor sales for Eden Prairie and asked them to follow up with the city on the issue. He added the liquor profits are valuable to the city, but if it’s something residents have an interest in, then the city shouldn’t immediately dismiss it.
“If that’s what people want, I think we also need to be representing our people,” he said.
According to the priorities document, the city is asking lawmakers to support “reducing the number of state and regional agencies that regulate municipal activities related to water supply and quality, and storm water quantity and quality.”
The document states the current system has “become unworkable” and has created confusion, impeded development and wasted tax dollars.
Loon asked the city staff and council members for more clarification on what they want to see in this area. Getschow said they most often run into confusion related to storm water issues with the city having three watershed districts in its boundaries. The watershed districts have different rules and the rules have changed.
“We, so many times, don’t know where we stand. It can be a difficult path to take for developers ... when you’re dealing with some of the regulations,” he explained.
Getschow said that the city has tried to partner with local watershed districts to be a one-stop shop to administer their rules and it didn’t work out. The watershed districts want to be able to approve variances and permits.
City Council Member Brad Aho said the watershed districts have become more like rule-making bodies in recent years.
“We thought we as a city really said what the rules were for development, and we kind of found out that wasn’t so much the case,” he said.
Under the transportation category, the city is asking the Legislature to “support a broad-based transportation funding package that promotes economic development and growth in the region and keeps Minnesota competitive.”
Pryor said the state needs the right combination of transit and development, and should start looking at and planning for new technologies such as self-driving cars that will be coming. Having the state be a good partner so cities can develop their own local transportation makes sense.
“There are laws probably on the books that will keep cities from making these types of changes. I am really interested in transportation because I think that’s what the state can do to foster that development,” she said.
Loon said she’s hopeful they can get transportation done. She plans to survey her district’s residents about transportation and what they would accept.
“The one thing I have a question about is an issue of tax increases, and whether or not an increase either in both the sales tax or property taxes would be something people would be willing to look at as we move into a transportation bill or even a gas tax,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of appetite for those things in the Legislature that will be sworn in on Jan. 3.”
Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said Eden Prairie is excited about the Southwest Light Rail Transit project coming in, but the city is “protective of SouthWest Transit,” the local bus transit agency that serves Chanhassen, Chaska and Eden Prairie.
“We love the service that we have in SouthWest Transit. We want to see it continue,” she said.
Nelson said the Southwest LRT is important for the region and many major employers and people want to see it happen. She said getting long-term funding for light rail will be difficult without Eden Prairie’s legislators supporting it.