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."
St. Paul leaders are taking the first steps towards a full-scale renovation of Rice Park, the downtown square that fronts on the Ordway and Landmark centers.
On Monday morning, the St. Paul Garden Club is giving the city a $46,000 check to begin the planning process for the 120-year-old park, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful urban squares in the country. Its fountain and large leafy trees provide the backdrop for numerous events and festivals.
Officials and community leaders said, however, that more events and more visitors are taking a toll on the park. The Ordway is adding a $75 million concert hall and the Landmark Center is undergoing a $4 million restoration, making it the right time to take a new look at how the park functions, said Amy Mino, president of the Rice Park Association, a private group dedicated to enhancing the park area.
"Rice Park is a jewel in downtown and requires a commitment from both the city and neighborhood groups to keep it looking beautiful," Mino said.
Following a public engagement process, a conceptual plan will be developed for the park that includes an estimated cost and a timeline for how the plan would be implemented.
The St. Paul Garden Club first planted 1,700 tulips in Rice Park in 1927, and has helped maintain the park’s growth since. Most recently, it purchased and installed 140 yew shrubs in the park.
Just in time for winter, St. Paul city officials have agreed on a plan to strip and repave 11 of Mayor Chris Coleman’s “Terrible 20” arterial streets in critical need of repair.
On Wednesday, the City Council approved Coleman’s proposal to spend $2.5 million this summer to improve the roads, which include some of the city’s most highly-traveled – Cretin, Fairview, Grand and Hamline avenues, among others.
The work should be done by November.
Coleman thanked the council. “We do not want to repeat the winter and spring we had this past year,” he said, in a statement released Wednesday. “No one wants another polar vortex and everyone wants the roads to be better in St. Paul.”
The plan will use $1 million transferred from closed-out projects and areas such as street sweeping, along with $1.5 million already authorized for the work.
It wasn’t the council’s first choice on how to address growing problems with the washboard-like streets, which many people have been blaming for flat tires and out-of-whack suspensions.
Last month, six council members united around a plan to spend $22 million in bonding proceeds to start rebuilding the streets, rather than simply repairing them. The streets required more than just a short-term fix, they said.
But Coleman maintains that reconstructing all arterial streets will cost about $20 million a year for the next 10 years. His plan to spend $2.5 million now on repairs will buy the city some time until a long-term solution can be found – something he plans to offer in next month’s budget address.
That sounds good to Council President Kathy Lantry. “We believe there needs to be a large infusion of money into rebuilding our roads in the future and we look forward to working with the mayor to identify a plan we can all get behind,” she said.
The streets chosen for repairs this year, based on condition and traffic volume:
C-SPAN has St. Paul in its camera lens this week.
The national cable public affairs network, perhaps best known for its unblinking (and sans commentary) coverage of congressional debates and hearings, is in the capital city this week for a series on St. Paul’s history and literary life that it plans to air in September.
C-SPAN executive producer Mark Farkas popped in on Wednesday’s City Council meeting to talk about what his crew was doing and to thank the city for its hospitality. The crew will return to Washington, D.C., next week to produce 16 to 18 pieces on St. Paul, he said.
Sure to be included: the Hmong culture, the State Capitol, the Minnesota History Center, poet laureate Carol Connolly, a gangster tour with author Paul Maccabee, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Summit Avenue district. Visits also were made to Fort Snelling, the Alexander Ramsey house, and Garrison Keillor’s Common Good bookstore.
St. Paul is one of several cities across the country on which C-SPAN is training its spotlight this year. Last weekend, Des Moines was the featured city on C-SPAN’s 2014 Cities Tour. St. Paul’s turn will come the weekend of Sept. 20-21.
St. Paul faces a budget deficit of $9,6 million in 2015, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says -- and next month he'll deliver his recommendations on how best to close that gap.
In a statement released Wednesday, the mayor said that he will host four public meetings in the next few weeks to get feedback on residents' funding priorities. People also will be able to share their thoughts online.
"It is critically important that we make it as easy as possible for St. Paul residents to participate in discussions about our investment priorities," Coleman said.
The mayor announced that he will deliver his annual budget address on August 13 at the Schmidt Artist Lofts, the recently-finished West 7th Street project that transformed an old brewery with the help of public money into housing for artists with low to moderate incomes.
It won't be clear until next month whether Coleman will seek a property tax hike to erase the deficit. In the meantime, he has asked each city department to look for ways to cut costs while preserving essential services. It's an instruction that many St. Paul mayors, including the incumbent, have issued at this time of year.
Last August, the mayor proposed no increase in the tax levy, saying that additional state aid had made it possible for St. Paul to close an $11.5 million gap without additional tax revenues. It was only the second time in eight years that Coleman did not seek a higher tax levy; for most of his time in office, he and the City Council have raised the levy to cover budget shortfalls caused by a tight economy and declining government aid.
After Coleman offers his budget recommendations, the City Council has until the end of the year to agree on a final budget.
Residents wanting to submit their ideas are welcome to visit the city website -- www.stpaul.gov -- or go to Twitter, using the hashtag #stpaulbudget.
Here's a list of the public meetings scheduled for community budget talks:
July 16: Wellstone Center, Neighborhood House, 179 E. Robie St., 5:30-6:30 p.m.
July 23: Golden Thyme Coffee and Cafe, 921 Selby Av., 9-10 a.m.
July 26: J & S Bean Factory, 1518 Randolph Av., 3-4 p.m.
August 1: Hmong Village, 1001 Johnson Pkwy., 1:30-2:30 p.m.