Our View: Concerned voices need to be heard

Participants in Rochester's Truth in Taxation hearing voiced some disturbing concerns.

The most-disturbing worries weren't about the current proposal for a 7 percent increase to the city's tax levy, which is below the 8 percent authorized earlier this year. We knew those concerns were coming, some from homeowners on fixed budgets and others from business owners facing as much as 65 percent property tax increases.

We understand the concerns voiced about increased taxes in a community still feeling the lingering effects of a recession. What we have difficulty understanding are those who voiced worry — either in person or through others — that speaking at Monday's meeting would spur some repercussions.

Such concerns seem to be without merit. The city's tax structure isn't designed to single out a specific property owner. In most cases, tax obligations are largely determined at the state level.

Mayor Ardell Brede and other council members were quick Monday to reassure those in attendance. "Certainly, there's no retaliation on somebody who speaks," Brede said.


Council Member Sandra Means responded: "I think we don't want that kind of power anyway."

It's unfortunate property owners feel such skepticism and worry regarding those who oversee city government. Truth-in-Taxation hearings are among the many crucial ways citizens can communicate with city leaders, hopefully discovering a common goal of finding potential savings while also trying to make sure the city's needs are covered. "We do work hard on the budget to make sure we are as efficient as possible," Council Member Ed Hruska said Monday night.

Unfortunately, as City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold said Monday as budget talks began, there is little flexibility in the city's operating budget, which is based on a variety of factors, including state mandates and expectations of local residents.

Earlier this year, a proposed streetlight utility fee was proposed to provide added flexibility and lessen the reliance on property tax revenue, shifting some burden to those who do not own property. The move was quickly rejected amid residents' complaints. "The message I've heard over and over again is 'just put it on my property tax,'" Rochester City Council Member Mark Hickey said in late September.

It shows that elected officials do listen and take action when they can.

That's why we have confidence Rochester City Council and Olmsted County Board members will follow through on promises to form a united front with the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Rob Miller has challenged them to take a more visible role in finding solutions to tax concerns on a state level, which can impact local decisions.

That united front, however, is likely to require more voices than local elected officials and Chamber of Commerce representatives. It will require the voices of those directly affected by tax policy — the taxpayers.

Hopefully, they will be willing to speak up and voice their personal concerns when the time comes.

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