West St. Paul’s City Council finalized a purchase agreement for the Hy-Vee property, got a preliminary look at the 2023 budget, heard about the embedded social worker program with the police, and finalized several new ordinances.
The Economic Development Authority (EDA) approved the purchase agreement for the Hy-Vee property. The city will buy the land for $5.2 million, but expects to transfer the purchase agreement to a developer before closing. The move gives the city control over what happens to the site.
Mayor Dave Napier said he’s heard from residents concerned about more apartments at the site, but pointed out that housing is required to make these kind of projects feasible.
“If we don’t have control, that could triple the number of apartments,” said Council Member Wendy Berry. “We won’t see this again, ever. It’s really exciting.”
The risk to the city is about $48,000 if they terminate the agreement.
“This is good indication of a different approach to development,” said Council Member John Justen. “Instead of waiting for things to come in and getting what we get, this kind of proactive development by the city will leave a legacy.”
During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), city staff presented the preliminary budget for 2023. At this point it’s a high-level overview trying to get input on priorities from Council members. The proposed levy increase is around 6%, which works out to $150 per year for the average home. City Manager Nate Burkett noted this is a lower increase than surrounding communities.
The agenda packet included a number of requested priorities and price tags, some included in the budget (more police officers, additional park maintenance worker, skate park, neighborhood grant program, holiday lights on Robert Street, bollards to test bump outs for traffic calming, etc.) and some not (vehicle chargers at city hall, more pickleball courts, city hall facade update, etc.). Many of the pricier additions to the budget are increases to staff salary/benefits to remain competitive.
Adding every request would put the increase at around $550, though Burkett said they’re not recommending that but shared it for context. Rejecting all the requests would still result in a tax increase due to rising home values.
“Budget process is hard,” Mayor Dave Napier noted. “There’s a lot we want and a lot we need, we have to juggle those things.”
Council Member Vitelli said he wants to invest more in streets, pointing to the impressive paving work the city has done. He said he’d rather put money into streets than the proposed skate park at the Sports Complex. The paving budget is already increasing.
Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne encouraged public to look at budget documents. “This is your money,” she said. “Help us spend it the right way.”
Embedded Social Worker
During the OCWS, Council heard a report on the pilot program to embed a social worker with the police department. The Dakota County program started in 2019 as a pilot with South St. Paul and West St. Paul. It’s being expanded to a more permanent program with an agreement on the consent agenda for the regular meeting. The expanded program will offer one social worker to each city, as opposed to previously sharing one worker between the two cities.
The coordinated mental health response has proved incredibly effective and is a rare program in Minnesota and even across the nation.
Other Items on the Agenda:
- School resource officer: ISD 197 is shifting their school resource officer (SRO) from Mendota Heights to West St. Paul. The district has had an SRO since 2004 and the officer has come from West St. Paul and Mendota Heights at different times. The district will pay for 75% of the officer’s salary with the city paying for the remainder of time when school is not in session and the officer will be assigned elsewhere.
- Ordinances: Several ordinances were approved for a final reading:
- Catalytic converters: Police Chief Brian Sturgeon noted seven or eight thefts since the last Council meeting. He says the ordinance won’t help a lot, but it is another tool they can use. What’s really needed is action on the state/federal level. More on the rise of catalytic converter thefts.
- Commercial truck parking: A measure to limit commercial truck parking passed on a 5-1 vote, with Justen voting no and noting concerns from residents over a lack of exceptions. Residents can apply for a parking permit if needed.
- Fraudulent gift cards: This new ordinance will require an ID for the purchase of third-party gift cards to limit purchases made with stolen credit cards. Sturgeon highlighted a case from just days ago when someone bought $1,400 in gift cards using 12 different credit cards.
- Resources: Council Member Justen shared a couple resources from the Northern Dakota County Cable Communications Commission: Comcast Rise for minority- and women-owned businesses can apply for grants and Internet Essentials for low-income residents to apply for reduced-price access to the internet.
- Passed: Council Member Vitelli noted former mayor and long-time city attorney Arnold Kempe passed away.
You can watch the City Council, OCWS, and EDA meetings online.
Learn more about how city council works with our Guide to West St. Paul City Council.
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