West St. Paul City Council meeting with students from the University of Minnesota

City Council Recap: Dec. 13, 2021

Thanks to Mike’s Butcher Shop for their support. Hosting a dinner party? Simply looking for something quick and easy? From fresh cuts to grill-ready kabobs, you’ll find everything you need at Mike’s.

The last West St. Paul City Council meeting of the year included the 2022 budget and property tax levy as well as multiple student presentations from a University of Minnesota environmental class with recommendations for the city.

2022 Budget and Property Tax Levy

The main business for the City Council was approving the 2022 budget and property tax levy, which passed unanimously. The budget was first presented back in August and received preliminary approval in September. The property tax levy includes a 5.15% increase, which is the lowest increase since 2016. Some of the increases will cover additional staff members, including two police officers, a grant writer/communication staff, and recreation programmer. For more details, you can read the 76-page budget report.

Property taxes are notoriously complicated (we tried to offer an explanation), but despite online complaints about property taxes, only one person showed up to comment during the public hearing. That was former Council Member John Bellows who complained that West St. Paul property taxes are rising with no perceived benefit while Dakota County and ISD 197 are keeping their levies flat. It’s worth noting that Bellows served on City Council from 2015 through 2018 and voted to approve the levy increases for the 2016-2019 budgets, three of which were higher than this year’s budget increase.

Here are a couple graphs related to the budget:

This is a look at property tax levy changes going back to 2013, provided by the city.
Here’s a chart showing where your tax dollars go in the 2022 budget, based on numbers from the city.

Environmental Projects

Students from an environmental class at the University of Minnesota have been working with the city to tackle different projects. They met with City Manager Nate Burkett, Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Dave Schletty, and Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne to learn more about the city’s needs and finalize specific projects. During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), nine groups of students presented different projects to the City Council offering recommendations to address various environmental issues.

The projects included the bike/pedestrian plan, park use, trees, stormwater management, and more. The recommendations included general suggestions to engage and educate the community and making projects more equitable, but also included specific, actionable suggestions such as:

  • Adding rubberized surfaces to make playgrounds more accessible.
  • Making rakes available so renters can participate in the Adopt-a-Drain program.
  • Promoting “bee lawns” instead of full pollinator gardens as a less controversial solution because they can be mowed at three inches and still be pollinator friendly.

A general rundown of the student reports and recommendations is available now, but a website detailing their findings will be available at a later time.

Other Items on the Agenda:

  • Crime update: Police Chief Brian Sturgeon noted the police department has been busy with the good and bad lately, including four shootings in the past three weeks and several uplifting holiday programs.
  • Body cam audit: The consent agenda included the city’s first audit of the police body cam program. Council Member Eng-Sarne asked Chief Sturgeon to give more details about the audit, and he explained the many legal restrictions around the use and release of body cam footage. There have been 12 requests for body cam footage. The audit found no issues and showed that the West St. Paul Police Department is in full compliance with all legal requirements.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. (though there will not be a fourth Monday meeting in December). You can also watch the City Council and OCWS meetings online.

Here’s a video recap from ward 2 Council Members John Justen and Robyn Gulley.

We’re able to do these City Council recaps thanks to our members. You can join them with monthly or annual support through Patreon.

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