Greg Miller is running against Marianne Stebbins and Mary Jo Fulkerson for one of two four-year Excelsior City Council seats up for election Nov. 6.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.
I grew up in St. Paul but have lived in Excelsior longer than anywhere, 26 years. My wife Deb and I live in a beautiful home built in 1920 with our dogs, Mack and Zoey, 12 and 10 years old, who think they are kids.
We hope to live here forever. We love the small town historic resort atmosphere. Most people don’t know I was a hockey and track athlete in college and that I coached high school hockey and track.
This past year I placed 3rd in my Pro category for the National Roller Cup inline skate series. This is a series of marathon races around the country that I do to stay in shape and to compete.
What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?
As a kid we would come out to Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka to get out of the city and picnic, swim and fish. Excelsior always struck me as a great community, so we feel very fortunate to make our home here. We have traveled world wide, and the Lake Minnetonka area is one of the most beautiful places to live.
We love the outdoors, sports, fishing, cross country skiing on the lake. We are so lucky to live here. Being on the city council since 2004, I have been concerned about runoff and we have improved water quality by intercepting storm water and filtering it before entering the lake. We have taken advantage of grant funds to do this.
Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.
I think it is an issue at all levels but more focus is put on this issue at the local and state level. At the local level, each city on the lake, the Lake Minnetonka Association, the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District all need to work closely together and with the Department of Natural Resources at the state level to address invasive species.
Coordination with so many parties involved is very difficult, but it is very important to counter the effects of invasive species to protect our wonderful resource, Lake Minnetonka.
What is the most common issue people talk with you about while campaigning? What do you tell them?
Two topics often come up. First, the commercial development projects going on in our city. I have supported responsible commercial development efforts on the council since 2004. This means commercial development that benefits us by offsetting residential taxes, provides parking and fits with our historical architecture. Projects often brought up are the grocery store, new library and the new hotel.
Second, the Fiscal Charter Amendment. I agree with fiscal responsibility and transparency. That’s why the city council and Charter Commission have already implemented an improved version of what is on the ballot by changing the Charter and through Ordinances. I recommend voting no on the ballot Charter Amendment because it is redundant, locks in antiquated methods of doing things and forces costs on the city like mailing all financial documents to everyone in the city, as just one example of unnecessary costs.
In the version the council already implemented we make all documents available on our newly revised web site and let people know how they can get a hard copy if they want one.
How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?
I believe in delivering the highest quality city and school district services in the most efficient and cost-effective way. What this means is carefully looking at every budget and making the right long term capital investment decisions. I have done this on the city council since 2004.
I have a Business Finance and Economics degree so I have put much focus on all financial aspects of the city. We have kept budgets in check and have had a zero tax increase in Excelsior for two years. We have strong fund balances and reserves with a very high bond rating. We have saved capital funds and spent them responsibly on important infrastructure projects like failing water and sewer lines and crumbling streets.
Since 2004, the responsible commercial development I have supported has resulted in the commercial tax base increasing to 34 percent now from 24 percent in 2004. With the projects in the pipeline the commercial sector could increase to about 45 percent. This directly reduces residential taxes. We have done this while retaining our small town historic atmosphere.
If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to?
We are a small city so we have to be very careful what we spend our money on. It is essential to take advantage of grant money and to encourage reasonable public/private partnerships to keep the tax burden on residents and businesses at a minimum.
In the past several years we have made important infrastructure investments in water and sewer lines and streets. In the next four years I think it is important to focus on our Commons. The band shell, bathrooms and concession stand at the ball field and the bath house at the beach are in dire need of attention.
Also, it would be good to irrigate the Commons to keep it looking good all season long. We will need to provide some creative solutions to provide funding for these projects without large increases in the tax levy.
Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to city residents?
We have excellent public safety services in Excelsior with the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department and with the Excelsior Fire District. Both organizations are considered some of the best forces in the state. Our cost for the Excelsior Fire District is based upon property tax values so we pay, relative to our tax values, the same as our partners in the district, Deephaven, Greenwood, Shorewood and Tonka Bay.
The cost allocation formula for the police is based upon a formula that charges Excelsior more than its partners in the Joint Powers Agreement, Greenwood, Shorewood and Tonka Bay. However, if we add another city to the JPA, our costs would be charged the same way they are allocated for the fire district, by relative property values, resulting in lower total costs for Excelsior.
Since we have lost Local Government Aid of $350,000 due to state budget cuts, those savings are needed in Excelsior.
How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in local government?
I encourage everyone to stay connected to their local government because you can really make a difference by staying involved. Over the past several years we have completely revised our Web site to provide all information about the city, from how to use services, to watching council and commission meetings, to reading all of our financial documents to name a few.
Contact your City Manager and your Mayor and council members for any issue that you may have. That is how we get feedback and address issues or see opportunities in our community. We have many commissions that we need citizen involvement on. These commissions include Heritage Preservation, Parks, Planning, Cable Communciations and Lake Conservation to name a few.
You can have an impact on where you live by getting involved.
Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?
Strong leadership is critical for our success to have the tremendous “quality of life” we enjoy here in Excelsior. Fiscal responsibility and transparency are very important. Our city government exists to serve its citizens with the highest quality services in the most cost effective way.
These are all key principles that I believe in.
I have a unique set of financial and leadership skills developed since 1978 managing people and complex projects in various industries ranging from aviation to mortgage banking to legal services. I have been on the city council since 2004 putting my skills to work helping to make our city a better place to live. I hope when you look around our town, you like what you see. With your input, I have been a part of the decisions to get us here.
I will continue to listen to you and work hard to make Excelsior the best place to live. Thanks for your support in the past and in the future.