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The West St. Paul City Council approved a resolution encouraging mask wearing, ran into confusion over prevailing wage requirements on city projects, and took the first step to reduce the number of required public hearings.
The West St. Paul City Council debated mask policy, but stopped short of a mandate and instead passed a resolution “strongly encouraging” people to wear masks in light of the omicron surge of COVID-19. The resolution passed 5-1.
“So many areas of our lives are on edge right now,” Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne said. “This is not a conversation intended to infringe on anyone’s freedom, we’re trying to do what we can to help our neighbors who need us.”
Debate centered on the burden a mandate would place on local businesses who would primarily be responsible for enforcement.
“This is a difficult ask and to put the responsibility on businesses and workers is a pretty tough thing to do,” Council Member Julie Eastman said.
“When we start telling people what to do they get more angry and rebel than if we just let them make the decision on their own,” Council Member Dick Vitelli said. The lone no vote against the resolution, Vitelli came out strongly against a mandate or resolution, but clarified that he’s been vaccinated, boosted, and wears a mask.
Currently eight Minnesota cities have mask mandates and three have passed resolutions strongly encouraging the use of masks. The City of West St. Paul does requires staff to wear masks outside of their work area and strongly encourages the public to wear masks in city buildings.
“I don’t know what a resolution’s going to do other than make us feel good that we’ve said something,” said Mayor Dave Napier, the only person in the room not wearing a mask.
Prevailing Wage and the City Hall Remodel
What should have been a routine approval of the contract for the city hall remodel was derailed by confusion over the city’s prevailing wage ordinance. Prevailing wage is a labor standard that mandates an hourly wage, benefits, and overtime in an attempt to ensure workers are making a living wage. The West St. Paul ordinance requires a prevailing wage for private development that receives more than $50,000 in financial assistance.
Several council members understood the prevailing wage ordinance to apply to city projects as well and wanted confirmation that prevailing wage would be used on the city hall remodel. Attorney Kori Land clarified that the ordinance only applied to private projects that used city assistance.
Ultimately, the council approved the contract with the stipulation that the project use prevailing wage. City Manager Nate Burkett seemed confident they could work it out with the contractor and prevailing wage would be used. Council members also wanted to revisit the issue of whether or not there is a prevailing wage requirement for city projects.
During a break between the regular council meeting and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) meeting, Council Member John Justen found a resolution requiring prevailing wage on public projects. Land admitted Justen was right (prompting laughter that the admission came while the cameras were off).
But it gets more complicated as the resolution Justen found was never approved. It was part of a 2020 debate over the Dominium project and a proposed repeal of the prevailing wage ordinance that never happened. The resolution for public projects was proposed as part of that debate, but the discussion never turned to that resolution and it never passed.
So it seems Land was right all along and the city’s prevailing wage ordinance only applies to private development that uses city assistance. Going forward, West St. Paul City Council will likely officially pass a prevailing wage requirement for city projects as well.
Fewer Public Hearings
Currently site plans and conditional use permits require two public hearings in West St. Paul, one before Planning Commission and one before City Council. State law only requires one public hearing. City staff propose reducing the requirement to a single public hearing at the Planning Commission. This can help streamline the process, reduce costs, and avoid confusion. The downside is less opportunity for public input, though City Council could always invite public comment at their discretion.
Planning Commission discussed the measure last week and approved it unanimously. They also held a public hearing where no one spoke. The proposal will come up for another public hearing at the next city council meeting on February 14.
Other Items on the Agenda:
- Planning Commission appointments: Mayor Dave Napier appointing two people from Ward 1 to serve on the Planning Commission—Alex Dahlquist and Lance LaRue. These are the first appointments to the newly expanded Planning Commission.
- Reappointment: Three members of the Environmental Committee—Cindy Joanning, Constance LaCombe, and Jade Pennig—were reappointed. There are also four vacancies on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee that will be considered in February. You can apply now for those positions.
- Solar power: The council approved a first reading for an ordinance allowing free-standing solar power systems. This will come up for a public hearing on February 14.
- New West St. Paul Days: The city is planning a proposed “Explore West St. Paul Days” event for August to replace the former West St. Paul Days. The event will include a city open house, fireworks, parade, movie at the dome, food truck event, and more.
- Townhouses: There were two closed sessions during the EDA work session and regular meeting to consider the sale of property on Crawford for proposed townhouses.
- TIF/Tax abatement: If you ever wanted to know more about tax increment financing or tax abatement, the EDA work session included a detailed presentation about how those two financial incentive programs work.
- Annual report: The EDA also approved the 2021 annual report.
- Black History: West St. Paul officially proclaimed February as Black History Month.
You can also watch the video recap from Council Members Robyn Gulley and John Justen.
Learn more about how city council works with our Guide to West St. Paul City Council.
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