Steve Dennis is in his fourth year on the City Council. He currently serves as Mayor Pro-tem and Vice President of the Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority. He can be reached at 651-283-1929.
In bookmarking the past four years, I've been contemplating some of the progress our city has achieved. The following snapshot covers six key areas:
Cottage Grove was named as the top-rated fiscally sustainable city in Minnesota and in the top 1 percent of the entire country according to United States Common Sense — a "non-partisan, non-profit policy group dedicated to opening government data to the public, developing data-driven policy analysis, and educating citizens about how their governments work." Additionally, WalletHub listed Cottage Grove as high as the 46th best city in America (out of over 1,200 cities surveyed) for quality of life and livability measures.
We have undertaken the largest-scale community feedback in our history by conducting the "My Future Cottage Grove" initiative. This led to a yearlong process connecting with thousands of residents to define their interests in our community's current and future direction involving topics such as sought-after amenities to desired service and retail opportunities. Currently, we've partnered with Polco, a civic participation survey platform, to help receive input from the community on initiatives, current ideas, and issues facing the city. This is done in an attempt to deliver on what's important to our residents.
Our city continues to maintain a AA+ (high-grade) credit rating based upon our well-managed fiscal policy. This allows us to borrow money for certain projects at a lower interest rate that results in a positive effect on city finances. Due to structure (we've heard for the first time ever), we are developing the potential to obtain a AAA Bond rating that would be exceptional for a city of our size! We have also been recognized repeatedly for the excellence of our annual comprehensive fiscal reporting systems.
Through council direction and partnership with our staff, we have worked to streamline and optimize our city departments across the board. This includes efforts to improve economy and value while still delivering the level of quality services we're known for. We are also committed to making Cottage Grove an "employer of choice" by improving work culture, and reducing staff turnover.
Keeping our promises to respond
The key addition of our new Central Fire Station has allowed us to improve our response capabilities while continuing to offer some of the lowest response times in Minnesota! Our ambulances are now outfitted with Power Load — a hydraulic system that enhances safety for our responders and patients as call volume increases. And lastly, the new HERO training facility will be coming on line next year to ensure our Public Safety personnel are trained to the highest standards for serving our community effectively!
We've worked hard to market the city and entice business investment. Whether through our industrial business park, new neighborhoods or commercial retail centers, we have filled much of the empty space and are at 7.1 percent vacancy rate (experts recommend 6 percent as optimal to create market flexibility) currently. Adding businesses like Hy-Vee and Junction 70 is helping to fill the needs our community has requested. This also extends to additional housing styles such as "high-density" that will increase options of affordability! All told, in the 3.5 years I've served on the Council, our team has recorded over $417 million in Economic Development results. This number represents the all-time record and we are building upon it!
Serving on the City Council has been one of the great honors of my life. I am very proud of the accomplishments we've made and hope you are too! Making our home a better place is priority one.