Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.
The first West St. Paul town hall of 2021 took place this afternoon. The virtual event included updates from city department heads, Q&As from residents, updates rom council members, and an online survey that will give elected officials direction as they plan for the future. There are two more town halls on February 24 and 27.
We’re offering a casual recap of what was discussed, but we encourage you to check out a future town hall event if you can. It’s a great opportunity to ask a question and give input (they take questions lives via email and phone call). And please, take the online survey to give direction and input.
Town Hall Recap
Things started with a few introductory comments (and some technical difficulties as the audio didn’t kick in for a minute or two):
- Mayor Dave Napier gave a shout out to Edgar Herrera for offering live Spanish interpretation that was offered via Spanish-language cable and livestream broadcasts.
- City Manager Ryan Schroeder encouraged people to check out the 2020 annual report for more on what the city is doing (“Prepare for a lot of detail or going to sleep,” he added, noting that it’s a little dry as a compendium of what’s going on)
Ross Beckwith talked 2021 projects:
- Moreland Avenue reconstruction is the major project this year. It will take May to October. New sidewalk on north side of Moreland.
- Sewer main and lift station work will also happen in 2021, replacing infrastructure from the 1960s.
- MnDOT is also doing a mill and overlay on 52, from Concord to 494, this summer. There will be eight weekend closures, so watch out for those. But work should be done by end of July.
- Water main replacements around Emerson
- The second half of the Robert Street underpass project will happen May to August, with one lane closed in each direction again.
- Garlough and Marthaler trail will be redone, possibly this year if bids come in favorably (otherwise it will happen in 2022).
- Thompson County Park facility upgrades are also planned for this year.
- Future street improvements: Crusader in 2022, Annapolis in 2023 and 2024, Thompson in 2023 (including roundabout), Delaware in 2025.
- Future sidewalks and trails: Thompson in 2023, Bidwell in 2023, Oakdale in 2024, Butler trail study.
A few park updates:
- Plan to open the pool in 2021, as long as COVID-19 precautions allow it.
- Splash pad will be open Memorial Day to Labor Day. The bathroom will be open regular hours (if it’s closed, it’s because of vandalism).
- Open walking at the dome are available in the morning.
- Hoping for Movie in the Park (singular movie) this summer.
Jim Hartshorn talked development: “2021 will be the year of construction, like no other year.” He gave an overview of current development projects—though he did manage to skip Hy-Vee, prompting a question during the Q&A. (The basic update is that Hy-Vee seems cagey about announcing things, so they’re not very forthcoming with dates. But they did apply for a permit to demolish the former AutoZone, so things are moving along.)
South Metro Fire
Mark Juelfs, chief with South Metro Fire, gave an update:
- Significantly reduced number of calls in the spring due to COVID-19 (nationwide it was down 25-30%).
- Staff have now all been vaccinated.
- 6,760 calls for service in 2020. 5,021 were EMS related.
- Two new fire engines in 2020.
- Beginning to work on replacing ladder 1, a truck that went into service in 1993.
- Need to hire to fill several open positions.
- Started PAR 360 in 2020 to address mental health issues among firefighters.
Police Chief Brian Sturgeon started with crime stats—the number one question he gets.
- Stats are mostly good, though theft and larceny are up. Sturgeon blames the increase on self-checkouts. Sexual assaults are up (from 8 to 16), though Sturgeon attributes it to more people coming forward to our community advocate (he notes it’s the most under-reported crime in the nation). Disorderly conduct jumped a lot due to COVID-19 restrictions.
- Gave an update on diversity and recruitment efforts (also a topic that came up during Monday’s City Council meeting).
- Fit for Duty, a nationally recognized program to support our officers, is expanding to cover physical and financial health as well as mental health.
Char Stark talked about financial goals, including finding third-party funding sources, improving infrastructure, lowering debt, improving cash position (doubled over last four years), and lowering tax rate. Stark then went deep into the weeds with property tax 101 explaining how your property taxes are calculated.
Future budget plan is to keep levy flat while paying down debt and increasing cash.
Next the city opened up the town hall for live questions via email and phone calls. There were maybe eight to 10 questions total.
- Someone asked about safety precautions in the new Robert Street underpass. There will be security cameras and plenty of lighting. This question seems to come up a lot, and it’s worth noting that there are a number of other tunnels in the area and there have been no safety issues with any of them.
- With the pool potentially opening this year and operated again by the YMCA, a caller asked if residents will get the same discount as YMCA members. City Manager Ryan Schroeder said they expect to finalize an arrangement with the Y next month, and that’s part of the discussion—”Thanks to Karen continually raising this question,” said Schroeder “How did you know it was me?!” Karen asked on the phone, creating a moment of levity.
- Someone asked if West St. Paul collects park dedication fees from developers, and yes we do. Earlier this week the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee talked about improvements to Marthaler Park, much of which will be funded with these park dedication fees.
- City manager update: City Manager Ryan Schroeder is retiring this year and the city is currently in a search process for a new replacement. A subcommittee comprised of Mayor Napier, and Council Members Wendy Berry and John Justen will be looking at resumes and starting interviews soon.
- With frequent complaints about the businesses we get or don’t get in West St. Paul, someone asked what control the city has or doesn’t have in that process. Mayor Napier noted that if a business is coming in and fits the code and zoning, there’s not much the city can do to stop them. Instead the city tries to entice desired businesses through programs and subsidies. Hartshorn noted that it’s tough right now with COVID-19 and retail is struggling, but with all the housing going in it’s only a matter of time until things bounce back. He said he’s already getting inquiries about Signal Hills thanks to the new Dominium project going in at the former K-mart site.
- With Celebrate West St. Paul Days shut down, will the city take over the parade and still do the open house? With COVID-19 it sounds like a parade is not happening this year, but the Council will talk about it at their planning session. They do plan on holding a city open house, though it will likely be in September instead of May due to COVID-19.
The town hall ended with an invitation to take a survey. This is a brand new survey and not the same one that’s been used for the last several years. It will take five to 10 minutes to complete and you can do it online in English or Spanish. Paper copies will also be available through March 3 at city hall.
The survey is completely anonymous and will be used to help the city plan future initiatives.
More Town Halls
Remember that there are two more town halls:
- Wednesday, February 24 from 6-8 p.m. (Facebook event)
- Saturday, February 27 from 10 a.m.-Noon (Facebook event)
These are an important opportunity to engage the city and ask questions.
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