What’s making news in St. Paul, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to richard.meryhew@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

Ballpark signs would be an exception in downtown St. Paul

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 22, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Signs long have been a heated issue in St. Paul, perhaps more than most cities.

A local group called Scenic St. Paul has vigorously championed billboard removal and tighter sign regulations. The City Council typically has balked at allowing large and flashing signs to advertise products or companies; most of those seen now, such as the iconic “1st” on top of the First National Bank building, have been around for a long time and were grandfathered in.

But the council may be ready to carve out an exception for the new city-owned Lowertown ballpark, recently named CHS Field, where the St. Paul Saints will play starting next season.

An ordinance has made its way to the council that would amend city code to permit two roof signs at the ballpark. Roof signs are defined as either those mounted on a roof, or projecting above the top of a building.

The first version of the ordinance would have permitted roof signs anywhere downtown, subject to a conditional use permit. That was too much for City Council Member Dave Thune, who asked last week that the ordinance be reworked to permit only the ballpark signs. The council agreed with Thune, striking out what could have the most controversial of the signage ideas.

The council is making other provisions for CHS Field. The proposed ordinance would allow sponsor signs at the new ballpark and let them be bigger than usual, as well as advertising signs.

City Parks Director Mike Hahm told the Planning Commission that a roof sign “will be a great identifier for the ballpark and the neighborhood.  Saints Vice President Thomas Whaley said ballpark roof signs “will add to the visual experiences of fans attending events at the park and visitors to the neighborhood.” Whaley wanted a four-sided sign, which the current ordinance version doesn't permit.

The ordinance also would allow sponsor signs at transit stop stations and for bike sharing facilities, such as Nice Ride. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance next week.

Levy ceiling expected to reflect Coleman's 2015 tax proposal

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 22, 2014 - 11:14 AM

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday likely will set the 2015 maximum property tax levy at $103,636,842, which represents a 2.4 percent increase over this year’s tax collection.

How did they arrive at that figure? It’s the number that Mayor Chris Coleman put down in his proposed budget, which he presented to the council last month.

Under Minnesota law, all taxing jurisdictions must set a ceiling for the following year’s levy by the end of September. Once they’ve decided on a maximum levy, they can shrink the levy but they can’t raise it.

About three-fourths of the tax levy goes to fund city operations. Last year, the City Council also adopted Coleman’s recommendation: a zero percent increase.

The levy that Coleman proposes would raise taxes by $16 on a median-valued St. Paul home of $145,000. But a homeowner’s final tax bill also will include additional taxes due to property value shifts from the commercial to the residential side, and whatever tax changes are made by Ramsey County and the school district.

Two weeks ago, the Ramsey County Board agreed not to increase the tax levy for next year, capping collections at $276.6 million. The St. Paul school board is scheduled to makes its levy decision Tuesday.

Wanted: Food and rec services manager for Como Pavilion

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 11, 2014 - 12:47 PM

St. Paul will host a tour Friday morning of the lakeside pavilion at Como Park for vendors interested in managing food and recreational services there.

That wouldn't be especially interesting, except for the fact that the City Council a couple weeks ago agreed to spend $800,000 to sever ties with longtime pavilion manager Black Bear Crossings.

Black Bear's owners, David and Pamela Glass, had sued the city for breach of contract, claiming that parks officials had wrongfully prevented them from renewing their lease.

A Ramsey County judge ruled they were entitled to damages from the city, which led to the settlement approved by the City Council -- the third largest in St. Paul's history.

Black Bear will close at the end of the year, so St. Paul officials want to get a new manager in place to launch a new cafe and take over the busy banquet calendar at Como.

That's why, at 9 a.m. Friday, they'll conduct tours of the pavilion facility and take questions from interested parties. They're looking for someone to manage all aspects of the pavilion, including food and catering services, rec services on or around the lake, and facility maintenance.

For more information, click on www.stpaulbids.com/.

Coleman talking roads with Secretary Foxx, federal officials

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 9, 2014 - 4:31 PM

No one knows more about the crumbling state of municipal roads than Mayor Chris Coleman, who has famously labeled St. Paul's most notoriously rocky streets the "Terrible 20."

So Coleman, serving this year as president of the National League of Cities, is in the perfect position to bring those concerns to Washington in hopes of securing more federal funding for roads and infrastructure.

Coleman is meeting Tuesday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington as part of an "Infrastructure Investment Summit" at the Treasury Department.

Among the topics: how to jumpstart movement on President Obama's surface transportation plan, which would dedicate billions to filling the funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund and addressing deteriorating roads and infrastructure across the nation.

Coleman also plans to tell Foxx about the coalition of Minnesota mayors being formed to lobby the state for additional funding for local streets.

Repairs began Monday on 11 of the "Terrible 20" St. Paul arterial streets most in need of work. Coleman and the City Council agreed to spend $2.5 million to scrape and repave those streets for now; that work should be finished before winter sets in.

In the long term, the mayor has proposed $34 million in new funds next year to begin rebuilding the worst streets from the ground up.

City Council members, who have gotten an earful from constituents this year about the streets and as a result proposed their own aggressive program to address the road problems, are convinced that St. Paul needs to act now before more tires go flat and suspensions are busted.

Coleman is rethinking recycling plans for 2015

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: August 28, 2014 - 7:20 PM

One topic was notably absent in Mayor Chris Coleman’s budget speech this month, especially given the fact that it was one of last year’s major subjects: recycling.

His plan for 2015 had been to give residents wheeled carts with lids for their recycling, making it easier and more convenient. You can toss everything together into the 96-gallon cart and then wheel it out to the curb or alley.

But that plan has been pushed back. Anne Hunt, Coleman’s environmental advisor, said that the fees proposed by the city’s recycling contractor, Eureka, to implement the wheeled carts would have been too high to stomach right now.

Eureka, on the other hand, says its proposed fee hike was not nearly as high as Hunt says.

Coleman had announced last year a new effort to boost St. Paul’s recycling rates. It involved enlarging the circle of products acceptable for recycling and making it easier for residents to do.

The city’s program now accepts many plastics it had previously rejected, such as yogurt tubs and microwave trays. It also converted to a single-sort system, making it unnecessary for residents to separate newspapers, cans, bottles and other recyclables into different bins.

Hunt said that for 2015, Eureka proposed a fee hike for single-family homes of 58 percent and that city officials negotiated that increase down to 32.6 percent. That was still too high, she said, for the mayor to recommend to the City Council -- especially given the fact that he was proposing a 2.4 percent increase in the property tax levy.

“We’re committed to offering a high-quality program, but also have to be sure that we’re getting the best value that we can,” Hunt said.

But Tim Brownell, co-president of Eureka, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, disputed her figures.

He said the first estimate they gave the city was a 40 percent fee increase for weekly service moved from the curbs and into the city's alleys, which would require different trucks. The city was to cover the cost of the wheeled containers, he said.

Both sides knew 40 percent wouldn't work, Brownell said, so Eureka came back with an 18.8 percent fee hike for every other week service. From there, he said, the city and Eureka negotiated a reduced proposal of 12.2 percent.

With Eureka’s contract with the city ending in 2016, St. Paul officials plan to seek competitive bids for the next contract period. Eureka has provided recycling services for the city since 2000.

Whatever the figures, Roger Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who briefly ran for mayor last year as a Green Party candidate, said he was disappointed by Coleman's decision.

“I think it’s a reflection of where his priorities lie, rather than a negotiated deal with Eureka,” he said. “It was such a big deal in last year’s budget address and then this year there’s no acknowledgement, like it didn’t exist.It just feels like a pretty substantial departure from a commitment made."

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