is based on my strong belief that Corcoran is at a critical juncture in its growth and direction.
Decisions we make now will determine Corcoran’s future and shape what our town will look and feel like for our children. Burgeoning economic opportunities, while vital, cannot be haphazardly tossed into the mix. It is important to thoughtfully guide both residential and commercial development.
We need to keep property values high and reduce the residential property tax burden through business opportunities thoughtfully chosen by Corcoran residents. We need to promote growth that is beneficial to our prosperity, while preserving the small-town farming roots that define Corcoran.
For example, do Corcoran residents want to spend $726,500 (the latest number after the $1.649M remodeling plan was shelved last year amid controversy) - for a revamped City Hall? By their own admission this remodeling project will only suffice until the mid-to-late 2020s until a new city hall can be constructed. Again, according to the city "this building, with any amount of remodeling, will not meet the long term needs of the community.”
Meanwhile, what progress has Mayor Ron Thomas made in ensuring Corcoran residents and businesses have adequate fire and emergency services? A 2018 Minnesota Department of Public Safety study that found "the current stations leave a significant portion of the city outside acceptable travel time models. Current and future development is currently outside the four-minute travel model..." (96). Despite the study clearly stating it is "...clear that the city will need to adjust its plans for the future to keep pace with growing demands" the city has not taken action to protect its Residents.
In fact, the most recent information on fire protection services on the city website is from 2016.
The simple fact is that the Fire and Emergency services that the city pays the Hanover, Loretto and Rogers Fire Departments for (at a premium), are not able to adequately cover a "significant portion" of the city. This is no shortcoming on the part of the various Fire Departments, but rather on Mayor Thomas and his refusal to address this, among many other, major community concerns. Shouldn't we be focusing on building and staffing a Fire Station of our own, as the study recommends? In the short term, the city should communicate and work with the residents on developing and actually implementing better strategies with our neighboring fire departments until a fire station can be built and staffed in Corcoran.
These are just two examples that illustrate the need for new city leadership - leadership that works with residents on addressing the community's biggest needs.
We need to be aware of Corcoran’s well-documented, and frankly scandalous, history of “permit padding”.
What is supposed to be a fee-for-service charge has been used to generate city revenues, these monies have then been considered for use for special projects (such as renovating City Hall). The fee-for-service model for building permit fees is detailed by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in their Code Adoption Guide for cities:
In fact, under Ron Thomas' leadership, Corcoran was one of the most egregious offenders of this dishonest practice. Or as Minnesota Rep. Barb Haley calls it, "an illegal tax on housing". For many homeowners in Corcoran, this added cost can easily balloon up to $6,000 or more on a typical 30-year mortgage.
I strongly encourage all residents to take the time to read the Housing Affordability Institute Report that discusses Corcoran at length, including "Spotlight: City of Corcoran City Hall." on pages 10 and 11.
Additionally, there are numerous articles from the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, 5 Eyewitness News, AmericanExperiment.org and finance-commerce.com discussing this serious issue and the direct impact it has on Corcoran residents.
Click here to see just one of the numerous times "building permit revenue" was openly discussed as a source of funding for City Hall renovations.
It is my belief that Corcoran is currently experiencing haphazard growth chosen behind closed doors, at ill-attended meetings and led by a Mayor who seems to prefer working without strong residential participation. Transparency and community participation are easily increased through low-cost technological improvements that will help both residents and the current hard-working Corcoran city staff. As Corcoran grows, we need an explicit and strong vision – created by its residents - of how we want to expand our commercial tax base and choose development that allows us to seize on opportunities without losing our small town (not mall town) sense of community.
From online bill paying to document submission and attendance of council meetings, almost all interactions with the city should be easily remotely accessible.
These interactions should not be a temporary COVID-19 measure, but rather standard operating procedure going forward. Spurred on by COVID-19, the city implemented some technological accessibility - but in a tedious and uncoordinated manner (just try to navigate through the series of menus and broken links on the Corcoran city website, for example). You shouldn’t have to be tech savvy to attend city meetings on Zoom, find important information, submit documents (i.e. building permit applications and plans), access previous City Council meeting minutes and review previous public hearings at your convenience. For example, I had to go down a rabbit hole of links and unrelated searches to stumble upon the city’s YouTube channel to become the first viewer on a previous City Council meeting. (The same meeting which had its access information hidden behind an unorganized, outdated and poorly designed website.) By utilizing social media, as well as organizing and managing the city website correctly, we can ensure they become useful resources, not barriers to participation. These accessibility improvements will never replace live interaction, but rather provide residents with more options.
Frankly, all of this needs to be done better. Again, by increasing participation through low cost technology, Corcoran can refocus on the actual and current needs of the community, while also appropriately planning for the future. We need both a short term and long term vision statement - one that is actually followed through on - that accurately reflects the needs of Corcoran’s original residents, who are the foundation of our community, as well as our newer residents.
This must change.
I've experienced this myself countless times while trying to communicate resident concerns to the city. As I have met with more and more residents, I have noticed a deeply upsetting recurring problem. The city does not care to listen to residents feedback, concerns or advice. In fact, they prefer not to engage with residents at all. Instead, they do the bare minimum required by law in terms of notifying and communicating with the community. When concerned residents bring an issue to the city, they are either outright dismissed, or at best given empty words that are never followed through on.
As Mayor, this will never happen. I value residents, take their opinions and concerns seriously, and will always work with the community on addressing them. You will never be dismissed, disrespected or ignored.