How much for street maintenance? How much for new parks and trails? How much for recreation programs?
In the Citizens Academy at Victoria City Hall on Thursday, small groups of ordinary citizens wrestled over the sorts of decisions the City Council makes every year when setting the city’s $6 million annual budget. Using marbles and jars representing money and services, the groups practiced calculating staff salaries, estimating equipment costs, and deciding whether to improve local parks or maintain the status quo.
When the groups opted to short street maintenance of its annual $975,000 allocation, City Manager Dana Hardie warned: “You’re going to get a lot of phone calls from your constituents about those potholes!”
“How many thought this was an easy exercise?” she asked.
No hands went up.
Victoria, population about 10,000, is offering the Citizens Academy to show residents what goes into running a city. The program, similar to those held in other metro communities such as Hopkins and Eden Prairie, is modeled after programs offered by many police departments. Instead of dealing with life-threatening situations, participants grappled with limited money and city services.
“The goal is the same — to engage your residents in how the city works,” said Gwen Campbell, communications and resources manager.
It can be complicated and chancy, the marble-and-jar exercise revealed. The snowplowing budget was based on average snowfall, but some winters bring more snow than usual. Some city services can be cut to make up shortfalls, but Victoria worries about losing residents to neighboring cities.
“We don’t want everybody going to Chaska or Chanhassen to utilize their recreation resources,” Hardie said.
Earlier Thursday, City Clerk Cindy Patnode gave a talk about election procedures and all the precautions cities like Victoria must take to ensure accuracy and thwart potential hacking.
“Homeland Security has warned us that the threat is here and has to be taken seriously,” she said.
Other sessions deal with quandaries involving utilities, public works, road construction and public safety. In the water-treatment session, Hardie said, participants will get a chance to examine photos “of all the icky stuff that finds its way into our sewer system.”
The program’s participants range in age as well as their tenure in the city, Hardie said.
In a previous session, a representative of the Carver County Historical Society brought pictures of what the city used to look like. As its population booms, Victoria has spiffed up its downtown, added apartments and restored old buildings.
“New residents had no idea that 12 years ago these were dirt roads,” Campbell said.
People attend the program for a variety of reasons, Hardie said. Some are simply curious, some want to meet people and some want to be more involved in city government.
Christian Pederson, a 17-year resident of Victoria, has thought about a possible future run for City Council or even mayor. Now a member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, Pederson said if a candidate in a local election hasn’t been active in city government, they shouldn’t be running for office.
“I don’t want to be in the position of not knowing anything,” Pederson said.