As Princeton mayor Jeremy Riddle reflected on his six years in office as they come to a close soon, he said he accomplished the main objective on which he first campaigned.
“My focus was to try to keep the tax rates reasonable and to help businesses not have to bear any more burden than they have to,” Riddle said.
Riddle, who makes his living as a veterinarian and owner of the local Northwoods Animal Hospital, pointed to the city’s tax rates lowering during his years as mayor.
The city’s tax rate increased 10.36 percent in 2006, and rose 13.54 percent in 2007, the year he began his first two-year term as mayor. The 2007 rate was set by the city council and mayor that were in power in 2006.
The city saw smaller tax increases four of the next six years. There was no increase in 2011 and a 1.4 percent decrease in 2013. “What I kind of ran on was to try to be efficient with the budget and to be accountable to the taxpayers,” Riddle said. He and the rest of the council “really made strides in that direction,” he said.
Riddle did acknowledge what he called a “bite” for city property owners, in the form of a city sewer rate hike during his time in office. In August 2011, Riddle and the council approved a sewer rate hike to take effect in two steps, the first step occurring in October 2011, and the final step in April of this year.
The increase raised the average household sewer rate from $18.72 per month to $50.40, once completely phased in. The council raised the sewer rate to offset costs of a nearly-completed project to expand and redesign the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The sewer rate hike wouldn’t have been as large as it was, Riddle maintained, had there not been new stricter requirements from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the lawsuit from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA). The MCEA challenged, and won in the courts, its contention that the MPCA didn’t do enough investigating of wastewater processing options in issuing its first permit to Princeton to expand its wastewater plant.
Riddle, however, counted more pluses than negatives during his time as mayor. He recalled the instance about two years ago of the Sherburne County assessor pointing to the Sherburne part of the city of Princeton being the only location in the county at the time with commercial-industrial expansion.
The assessor’s reference was to the expansions at Glenn Metalcraft, United States Distilled Products, and In-Line Packaging in the city’s main industrial park.
Public safety building
Another accomplishment Riddle pointed to was the council reaching the point late this year of ordering the design and specifications for a public safety building to house the Princeton Fire & Rescue and Princeton Police departments.
The fire department leaders investigated having just a satellite fire station rather than building a bigger facility, Riddle said. But it was decided the best option for dealing with the overcrowded Princeton fire station would be to build a larger one, he said. (The department does have a satellite station inside the Wyanett Township maintenance building.)
The police department, meanwhile, is in a building that was never designed for such, but was put together by remodeling former medical facilities, Riddle said. The building is “falling apart,” he said. Riddle believes the planned financing of the approximately $2 million cost of the new safety building through revenue from the city’s off-sale liquor store is the right choice. The city would run 10-15 year bonding, and then use the liquor store revenue stream to make the bond payments, he said.
The ordering of plans and specs is the furthest the city has gotten with the project to date.
Future of Princeton?
In the future, Riddle would like to see the city maintain its present atmosphere, where a person can walk down the street and recognize many people and the downtown has a variety of businesses clustered for easy walking from one to another.
“I don’t want Princeton to lose its character,” he said.
Riddle also said he hopes the “It Starts Here” downtown revitalization project, with its competition for monetary awards to three business ventures, will succeed.
Riddle likes how so many of the town’s residents do volunteering, whether it is with the chamber, a church, food pantry or civic group.
Besides his civic service as mayor, Riddle has been serving for three years on the East Central Regional Development Commission, a property tax-funded group formed to improve life in the five-county region of Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Isanti, Chisago and Pine counties. Riddle chairs the commission’s Economic Development Strategy Committee, and hopes he can still be part of the commission as a citizen when he ends his job as mayor.
The reason that Riddle decided not to run for re-election, he said, is because of the amount of time the position has taken away from his personal life. He said there have been many times when he was performing mayoral duties, that he would have liked to have spent the time with his daughters Danika, 5, and Ainsley, 4.
The time factor was the most challenging part of the job of mayor, and to do the job right, a person should be doing much more than just going to the required council meetings, he said.
At the same time, he will miss other aspects of the job, mostly the interaction with the other council members, city department heads and many of the employees.
“It’s been so much fun,” he said.
Someday he might again consider running for a position with the city.