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A modest proposal for the city to raise money in hard times

by Joe Eyeshade

The City of Minneapolis is hurting for money. It counted on increased property tax revenues generated in the housing boom but property values are falling. Appeals of property-tax assessments are aggressively being challenged. Homes that become vacant through foreclosures will be hit by a $6,000 vacant-building fee. The city’s sidewalk inspectors will send work crews charging hundreds of dollars per property to shovel sidewalks down to the concrete if the property owner has failed to complete the job when four hours have elapsed after a snow fall. But even these measures may not be enough.

Persons with real estate, which cannot be moved from the city, have been taxed to the gills. Why not go after moveable property like cars? That way, some of the money destined for city coffers could come from suburban visitors.

As a world-class city, Minneapolis has a reputation to defend. Persons who drive into our city with dirty windshields adversely affect its image. Studies also show that automobiles with dirty windshields generate a significantly higher proportion of collisions and other accidents than those with clean windshields. So there is a compelling safety reason in addition to aesthetics to insist that the front glass be kept clear and unobstructed on vehicles entering the city. Drivers must be held accountable for adhering to community standards.

The City of Minneapolis could further increase the rate on parking meters in the downtown area. A related measure would be to hire more people to check for expired meters and issue more tickets. If the city could cut out a few minutes between the time of meter expiration and ticketing, that would more than pay for the extra employees.

Still another way to generate additional revenue is for the ticketing crew to observe the condition of windshields for cars parked by the meters. If in the employee’s opinion the windshield appears to be obstructed by snow or dirt, he or she could send a text message to a window-cleaning dispatcher to send someone out immediately to rectify the problem.

In short, the city of Minneapolis needs to engage the services of properly trained and supervised persons who will clean dirty windshields in cars parked on city streets within Minneapolis. After completing a city-approved training program, such persons would be licensed by the city. They would then be authorized to clean wind shields on cars parked on city streets which either in the opinion of the city’s meter crew or in their own professional judgment were deemed to need cleaning. The owner of the serviced car would always have the option of appealing the charge in court; but since the fee for service would initially be only $25, it’s expected that few would bother to file an appeal.

Upon completion of the windshield cleaning, the cleaner would stick a notice under the windshield wiper directing the car owner to send payment to a certain address within three weeks. If payment is not received by that date, the fee would double. Amounts of money that remain uncollected as of that date would be added to the state’s fee for issuing license-plate tabs. Drivers need those tabs, of course, to avoid getting into more serious trouble.

To make this plan work, the City of Minneapolis should lobby the state legislature in the current session to give it the authority to attach unpaid windshield-cleaning bills to the state’s annual fee for license plates. With respect to bills unpaid by out-of-state visitors, the state highway patrol would maintain a computer listing of license plates associated with delinquent accounts and be authorized to collect the unpaid fees from drivers on the spot or else impound their vehicles should they revisit the state. That, too, would need authorization by the legislature.

This program would be expected to pay for itself in a very short time and then start generating revenue for the city of Minneapolis. While such a measure may discourage some persons from visiting the city, the type of person likely to have a dirty wind shield would not be considered as desirable as the upscale people we wish to attract. In the long run, Minneapolis’ image as a clean, wholesome, and prospering place, unburdened by eyesores either in its housing stock or visiting automobiles, will guarantee its continuing status as a world-class city well into the future.


P.S. Be careful what you imagine, a message from St. Paul landlord Bill Cullen: "Bill, What you and I consider a joke, they might consider a great idea!"