2012 City of Excellence Award Winners

City initiatives involving stormwater irrigation, a city/school cooperative venture, a performance-based rental program, and a city-built business park were recognized today when the League of Minnesota Cities announced City of Excellence Award winners for 2012. The awards were presented June 21 at the League’s Annual Conference in Duluth.

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
City of Centerville—Stormwater Irrigation Project
The City of Centerville’s preparation for downtown redevelopment in 2011 included construction of stormwater management facilities. Faced with stringent stormwater rules and a choice between the high cost of underground storage or the intrusiveness of above-ground storage basins in a downtown area, the city looked for an innovative way to solve this problem.

The solution involved routing the downtown’s stormwater to an existing pond offsite, and using it as a storage basin for an irrigation system to serve the city’s park. As a result, the city’s parks department got a free irrigation system, and the city exceeded the stormwater treatment requirements of the Rice Creek Watershed District. In addition, the city was able to free up space in the crowded downtown for use in the redevelopment project, and take pressure off the city’s groundwater supply by using stormwater instead of potable water for irrigation.

Population 5,000 to 19,999
City of Columbia Heights—Targeting Youth: City/School Cooperative Ventures
In an effort to reduce costs of service provision, the City of Columbia Heights and Independent School District #13 have actively combined mutually beneficial services and facilities. Most recently, that partnership has resulted in a redesigned and redeveloped community park, the establishment of an elementary anti-bullying program for K-2 students, and the construction of a pedestrian bridge across a busy highway.

Funding for a portion of the collaborative effort was acquired through the award of a “21st Century Grant” by the Minnesota Department of Education, which was used for the city’s Recreation Department and Library. Both departments used the funding specifically for youth programming that included after school enrichment classes, non-school day youth trips, Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program, summer programs for school ages, summer youth trips, after school open gym time, summer reading clubs, and theater and puppetry programs.

Population 20,000+
City of Brooklyn Center—Performance-Based Rental Program
Since 2007, the City of Brooklyn Center needed to re-evaluate the rental inspecting and licensing program and staffing levels to address substantial increases in the number of licensed rental properties, in the demand for police and property code services, and in complaints about rental properties. Without a creative approach, a significant increase in city resources and funding would have been required.

After extensive research, the city launched a new performance-based rental license program consisting of a four-tiered license category system. The rental license category is primarily determined by the condition of the property, and may also be affected by excessive nuisance/disorderly police service calls. Other determining factors include the property manager’s attendance at educational meetings, completion of action/mitigation plans, and submission of monthly updates.

Topical category—Maintaining and Improving City Infrastructure
City of St. Charles—Chattanooga Innovation Park
In the wake of a 2009 fire that destroyed the North Star Foods Company, the City Council and EDA began to devise a plan to rebuild the lost tax base and replace lost jobs. When the company announced in 2010 that it would not rebuild, the city decided to pursue the option of constructing a business park in an effort to encourage additional economic development. Estimates of road, water, sewer and electric costs alone added up to over $2 million.

The city needed some financial assistance to help defray some of the costs, and the Council directed staff to seek money from the State Department of Employment and Economic Development. An application was submitted to the newly developed TED Business Development Project and, in 2011, the city was notified that it had been awarded the grant. Through community participation and leveraging resources, the city was able to complete within its timeline what is now Chattanooga Innovation Park and is proactively building itself as a resilient community.

About the judges
Judges for the 2012 City of Excellence awards were Ardell F. Brede, mayor of Rochester and former League president; Tom Eggum, consultant for the Municipal Services Division of TKDA and former public works director/city engineer for St. Paul; Greg Lindsey, professor and executive associate dean for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; and Eric Sorensen, former city administrator for the City of Winona.