West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Sept. 28, 2020

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West St. Paul City Council learned about ranked choice voting and the coming Moreland Avenue reconstruction project in 2021, and also awarded small business grants to 21 West St. Paul businesses for COVID-19 loses.

Ranked Choice Voting

During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS) the Council heard a presentation on the possibility of enacting ranked choice voting from Fair Vote Minnesota. The Charter Commission heard this last fall and recommended the City Council be aware of it but weren’t recommending any action.

Ranked choice voting gives voters the option to rank candidates. If no candidate gets 50%, then the candidate with the fewest votes are dropped and those voters move to their second choice.

The benefit of ranked choice voting is it can increase turnout (primary turnout in West St. Paul ranges from 14% to 40%, while general election ranges from 61% to 74%), can foster more civil campaigns, move us away from a reliance on a two-party system, and better reflects the will of voters by ensuring the winner receives a majority of votes. It allows for elections to combine the primary and general election, saving costs. It works especially well in races with more than two candidates, such as any primary in West St. Paul (2014 was the last year with no primary) or the 2016 Congressional race when Jason Lewis won with 47% of the vote over Angie Craig’s 45.2%, while third-party candidate Paula Overby had 7.8%. If ranked choice voting existed, Overby voters could have been reallocated to a second choice.

Here’s a quick overview of how it works:

There are several challenges for enacting ranked choice voting. A big one is that state and federal elections would still have primaries, so West St. Paul wouldn’t save any cost by eliminating primary elections. There are also ballot conformity issues. There is a Ranked Choice Voting Local Options bill before the state legislature that would make some of the administrative challenges easier.

Passing ranked choice voting in West St. Paul would require a unanimous vote of the City Council or a ballot measure.

Small Business Grants

The City Council awarded grants to 21 small businesses in West St. Paul for COVID-19 relief, funded through the CARES Act. Grants ranged from $1,000 to $10,000 for a total of nearly $172,000 to help local businesses (every business received 100% of what they requested).

Those businesses included: Adjustable Bedding, BLVD Bar and Grill, DARTS, Dodge Nature Center, Dunham’s, FoodSmith, Garcia’s Professional/Insurance, Itasca Corporation, Lucky China, Modern Day Music, ProTec, Sandy & Company, Smith Liquors, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Studio Aria Hair Salon, Tailoring by Norma, Thai Pepper, Tappers, Twin Cities Magic, Upper Midwest JEA, and Wooden Tub.

In addition to the grants, the City Council also refunded liquor licenses for three months for 5-8, Beirut, BLVD, Carbone’s, Cherokee/Jamesons, Dunham’s, El Nuevo, Fireside, FoodSmith, Gallagher’s, Marty’s, and Tappers for a total cost of $22,500 ($1,875 each).

Council Member John Justen clarified that all of these businesses had to provide paperwork showing itemized losses.

Moreland Reconstruction

During the OCWS the Council looked at plans for next year’s reconstruction of Moreland Avenue, which will include filling in some sidewalk gaps. Part of the plan includes narrowing much of the street, which will improve safety, save costs, and help with stormwater drainage.

The city initially planned on doing informative mailings instead of an open house due to COVID-19, though the Council pushed them to have some form of online presentation given the size of the project.

Other Notes:

  • Candidate forums: As noted in our voter’s guide, candidate forums will be held this week for West St. Paul races. Get all the details from the West St. Paul Candidate Forums.
  • Expanding business: The City Council approved a site plan to nearly double the size of The Canine Coach‘s building. Mostly they’re enclosing the existing building so it can be used year round.
  • Density: The Council took the first step in increasing the density in our zoning ordinance for multi-family developments. This is a step to bring West St. Paul zoning in line with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and passed the Planning Commission unanimously.
  • Resolving the fence: The Economic Development Authority (EDA) held a public hearing on selling 10 feet of land from 1010 Dodd to an adjacent property to resolve an errant fence.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch these meetings online: OCWS, regular City Council, and EDA.

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