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The West St. Paul City Council had a quick meeting with routine business, approving a body art establishment, discussing alley maintenance, and rejecting absentee ballot drop boxes.
West St. Paul spends an inordinate amount of time maintaining alleys and is considering a major upgrade to minimize maintenance. The city has 4.9 miles of alleys compared to 65 miles of streets, yet the city spends 702 person-hours patching alleys and 1,032 person-hours patching streets.
Repairing the 2.8 miles of alleys in poor condition would cost $3 to $4 million over the next two years. However, 90% of the cost of alley repair is assessed to residents on the alleys. Residents could be looking at a $4,000 to $7,000 price tag, with an option to make it a 10-year property tax assessment.
City Council regretted the expense for residents and wanted to make sure assessments would be fair, but overall saw it as a straight-forward maintenance decision. Staff will put together a proposal to make it happen.
Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes
The 2020 election had an unprecedented number of absentee ballots—nearly 60% of all ballots cast—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. West St. Paul had an absentee ballot drop box at city hall available 24/7 and considered offering one for the 2022 election.
Pros included ease of access and no cost to the city, while cons included creating the potential for pushback and litigation from election fraud watchdogs. This is the primary reason cited by other cities. Mendota Heights seems to be the only other nearby city in Dakota County are offering the drop boxes.
Council seemed split but concerns about potential demands on staff time pushed them against having the 24/7 drop boxes. Absentee ballots can still be dropped off at city hall when they’re open.
Other Items on the Agenda
- Donation: Katie Lowe and Jim Probst of the South Robert Street Business Association presented a check for $20,000 to the city for the Explore West St. Paul Days events.
- Body art: A body art business near Smith and Annapolis was approved for a conditional use permit. They plan to start with body piercing and add tattooing later. After some discussion, Council rejected the staff recommendation that the business be required to close by 10 p.m. (licensing will require they close by 11 p.m. anyway).
- Snow removal: The final assessment hearing for Robert Street sidewalk snow removal passed with no discussion..
- Pay raise: Council voted unanimously to give the first reading of giving themselves a raise. City Charter requires salaries to be reviewed in even years. The Charter Commission unanimously recommended a 3% raise, in line with the increase for city staff. The raise would increase the mayor’s salary to $10,174 and Council members to $8,165 starting in 2023. A public hearing and final vote, which must be unanimous, will come at the second reading next month.
- Pride: During citizen comments, a resident spoke in opposition to the Pride flag flying at city hall. Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne responded: “In the middle of Pride I think it’s important to say we welcome our LGBTQIA+ citizens here in West St. Paul and the flag represents their being welcome here.”
- Procedural: In an awkward moment, Mayor Dave Napier tried to return to the consent agenda, which was approved 4-1, and get a unanimous vote. Napier said that on routine items he wants to have unanimous support. There was no second on a motion to reconsider. Eng-Sarne was the lone ‘no’ vote.
Learn more about how city council works with our Guide to West St. Paul City Council.
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