2010 City of Excellence Award Winners

Six Minnesota communities receive honors from League of Minnesota Cities

Cities of Columbia Heights; Cottage Grove; Minnetonka; along with collaboration among Annandale, Maple Lake, and Howard Lake are selected as City of Excellence Award winners for 2010

(June 24, 2010—St. Paul, Minn.) City-administered initiatives involving a collaboration to build a new wastewater treatment facility, an innovative plan to preserve threatened city services, a unique funding structure to finance a local highway expansion, and a cable television project designed to highlight city services were recognized earlier today when the League of Minnesota Cities announced City of Excellence Award winners for 2010. Nominations submitted by the cities of Annandale, Maple Lake, and Howard Lake; Columbia Heights, Cottage Grove, and Minnetonka were selected as winners from among 20 entries in this year’s competition.

To compete for consideration as a City of Excellence, cities nominated a project, program, or initiative that was administered to achieve one or more of the following: improvement of the quality of a city service, development of an effective or innovative way to solve an old or common problem, modification of a program from another community or organization to fit city needs, discovery of a way to save the city money without compromising service results, and/or creative involvement of city staff or citizens in making a decision.

Winning entries were chosen in three population categories and in a special topical category. A description of each winning nomination follows.

Population under 5,000
Combined entry–Cities of Annandale, Maple Lake, and Howard Lake–“Wastewater Treatment Facility” project
All three communities faced similar problems—existing wastewater treatment facilities were outdated, landlocked, and incapable of achieving stringent new effluent limits. Without a new facility, development was at a standstill and serious constraints were placed on future economic growth.

The firm of Bolton & Menk, Inc. collaborated with the cities to determine that it was practical and cost efficient for the three communities to share a single facility. In addition to the intricacies of designing a system to tie all three municipalities together, the firm spearheaded a project management odyssey that wound through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, a series of spirited community meetings, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and—ultimately—the Minnesota Supreme Court.

To build a separate plant for each city would have cost approximately $45 million. Instead, the combined system was constructed for $26 million and, with grant monies received from a number of sources, the total net outlay was just $19.5 million.

Population 5,000 to 19,999
City of Columbia Heights–“Preserving City Services” project
Like many cities in the state, Columbia Heights has sustained significant cuts to local government aid over the past few years. Coupled with lower revenues resulting from the national recession, these conditions resulted in an extensive review of all city services.

Non-essential services topped the list when choosing which services to cut, but by forming strategic partnerships, the City was able to undertake many projects that would otherwise not have been funded. Those projects included the design and construction of a city gymnasium, the update and improvement of playground equipment, and the implementation and expansion of youth outreach programs by the Columbia Heights Police Department.

Partners included the Independent School District , the county, and local businesses. By finding creative ways to fund these projects, the City was able to maintain and even increase services to the residents while improving community livability.

Population 20,000+
City of Minnetonka–“Development of Opus Overlay District” project
The City created a unique funding structure using multiple public and private resources, and traffic counts generated by new commercial development to finance a $20 million expansion of State Highway 169 into the Opus II Business Park.

The project involved partnering with UnitedHealth Group to initially capitalize one-half of the total costs for improvements to the business park’s only freeway interchange entrance at State highway 169 and Bren Road. The state committed to finance permanently, through grants, the remaining one-half as a match to the local and private obligations. Revenue from “trip fees” will be used to pay back the local/private financing partners over time, as the business park redevelops.

The effect of securing financing for the road infrastructure has been to immediately initiate redevelopment in an important city economic development corridor, which will add an estimated $40 million to the region’s property tax base; secure the addition of 1,700 new jobs for the community—900 of which will be new to the region; and ensure future transportation capacity for the planned redevelopment zone over the next 20 years.

Topical category–Communicating and demonstrating the value of city services
City of Cottage Grove–“Dirty Jobs” project
The City of Cottage Grove determined that for many residents, city government can be a faceless entity with nameless people. To remedy this, the City set out to put a human face on the vital jobs done by city employees on a daily basis by producing a cable television segment called “Dirty Jobs.”

The segments consist of a multi-camera production intended to entertain and inform residents about the little known jobs done every day by city employees, and the importance of those jobs in promoting quality of life in the city. The program’s clever concept pays homage to the Discovery Channel’s popular television show with the same name.

The “Dirty Jobs” show is hosted by two city employees who get down-and-dirty with their interviewees, by gaining hands-on experience. So far 11 segments have been produced including interviews with city employees who trim trees, perform emergency rescues on ice and in water, and prepare athletic fields for resident use.

About the judges
Three former city officials served as judges for the 2010 City of Excellence Awards, including Steve Larson, former Mayor of New Brighton; Jim Scheibel, former Mayor of St. Paul; and Lauri Winterfeldt, former councilmember from Moorhead.