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This week’s West St. Paul City Council meeting included informational updates on next week’s election, homeless outreach, a coming Thompson Avenue turnback, and the art park. There was also business as usual with failed alcohol and tobacco checks and public hearings for citations, assessments, and street improvements.
Ahead of next week’s general election, Mayor Dave Napier asked for an update on security and safety.
Police Chief Brian Sturgeon gave an update on election security, citing a number of calls and questions. Police can’t be within 50 feet of a polling location unless summoned by a head election judge (there are some public safety exceptions). But police will be driving by polling locations throughout the day to make sure there aren’t voter intimidation efforts.
City Clerk Shirley Buecksler gave an update on safety precautions, noting that election judges will be provided with all kinds of personal protection equipment. An additional 10 election judges were also appointed to replace existing judges who can’t serve. Mayor Napier encouraged voters to be respectful of the election workers.
Buecksler also gave an update on voting, noting that so far 41% of registered voters in West St. Paul have already voted via absentee ballot. Total absentee voting was 9% in 2012 and 15% in 2016. Learn more about where and how to vote and check out our West St. Paul Voter’s Guide.
During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), Police Chief Sturgeon talked about how police officers interact with people who are homeless. He showed off a bag of resources officers have handed out to people, which includes information about services as well as practical items such as socks, hand warmers, toothbrushes, and gift cards. Sturgeon introduced Deputy Director of Housing and Community Resources Madeline Kastler with Dakota County Social Services and Housing and Homeless Outreach Director Amber Hanson with Ally Supportive Services, LLC (which is located right here in West St. Paul).
Kastler and Hanson talked about outreach efforts and how they have plans in place to address potential encampments. They try to be proactive and have offered rental assistance to more than 500 people, totaling $85,000. While the program to house emergency shelters in local churches has been suspended due to COVID-19, they have switched to a hotel model and currently have 104 units of hotel housing available.
More than anything, they work to connect with people facing homelessness and help them get what they need. It varies case by case depending on what individual people need. If you or someone you know is facing homelessness or you see someone living outside, Ally has an outreach cell phone number, 612-875-9683, and they can get out immediately to help.
The number one need Hanson and Kastler cited was more affordable housing, though they noted West St. Paul has been making good progress.
Also during the OCWS, Council heard about Dakota County’s plans for a “jurisdictional transfer” of Thompson Avenue back to West St. Paul (know as a “turnback”). That means the city would own the road instead of the county and be responsible for all improvements.
However, Dakota County would still pay for the planned roundabout coming to the Thompson/Oakdale intersection in 2023, as well as the 2023 mill and overlay (that will also re-stripe the road with a center turn lane) and sidewalks. West St. Paul would also get $1.8 million to cover future Thompson Avenue construction.
Art Park Project Progress
The city accepted two donations for the art park, including $1,000 from Pamela Dyer, who after 40 years in West St. Paul is moving to be closer to family. She called the donation a farewell gift to West St. Paul. Additionally, more than $700 for the art park was accepted, raised from Go Fund Me and cash donations.
The mosaic sculpture project will be installed next week at the art park on the corner of Oakdale and Butler. There will be a short celebration event on Sunday, November 8 at 3 p.m. at the park.
- Public hearings: There were three public hearings for administrative citations (nearly $50,000 worth—about half from the vacant Burger King), unpaid assessments (mostly police false alarms and snow/weed abatement), and street improvement projects. None were contested.
- Alcohol and tobacco compliance: Several local businesses failed the regular police alcohol and tobacco compliance checks. Beirut, Chipotle, and FoodSmith failed the alcohol check and Speedway failed the tobacco check. Chipotle also failed two alcohol checks in 2017 and did not attend the mandatory training. They face an increased penalty of $1,000, and Chipotle noted they would not be filing for a liquor license in 2021.
- Reducing debt: The city will be refinancing some bonds, shaving a year off the term and saving about $350,000.
- Moreland: Look for a major reconstruction of Moreland Avenue in 2021. There will be a public hearing on the proposed improvements at the November 9 City Council meeting.
- New flags: The South Robert Street Business Association donated $10,500 to the city for new flags and banners along Robert Street.
- Bonding bill: Several Council Members noted that the city will received $2.2 million in state money for sewer infrastructure upgrades thanks to the recently passed bonding bill. A big thank you goes to our state legislators, Representative Rich Hansen and Senator Matt Klein.
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