Discussion at the West St. Paul City Council meeting included the Parks Master Plan and community center study, shopping for a city attorney, and the 2023 budget.
Parks Master Plan & Community Center Study
During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), Council reviewed the request for proposal (RFP) for a parks master plan. They discussed this back in September, but today’s discussion gave more context and detail. The Council gave the nod to move forward.
The point of the Parks Master Plan is to create a new vision for the city’s parks and recreation system and shift from a mindset of maintenance to improvement. It also wants to take a regional look at amenities in order to avoid duplicating efforts.
The plan will also include an additional study to look at a potential community center. This includes assessing market demand and how much people are willing to pay (in membership fees and property taxes). The agenda packet includes the presentation with a look at existing services, potential locations (and why the Hy-Vee/YMCA site is not ideal), and ballpark estimates of costs.
Shopping Around for a City Attorney
City Council raised the topic of shopping around for city attorney services last month. Levander, Gillen, and Miller has provided the city with legal services for more than 27 years—with City Attorney Kori Land serving for 20 years—without getting competing quotes. Council tabled the issue last time for lack of time and took it up again.
The question is whether or not to put out an RFP and compare prices. The contract with Levander, Gillen, and Miller isn’t up until 2024, but there is an option to cancel it.
- Council Member John Justen argued for this four years ago and said it’s not a reflection on Land it’s just good fiscal responsibility.
- Council Member Robyn Gulley said she’s disagreed with some of the advice Land has given and would like a fresh perspective. She added that legal advice is just that, advice, and the law is open to interpretation.
- Council Member Dick Vitelli was opposed to putting out an RFP and said it’s an insult to shop around in the middle of the contract. The agenda packet noted, “This is a good time to issue an RFP due to the fact that there are two years remaining on the contract with Levander and if the Council does not find an alternative, the city may continue working with Levander under the existing contract.”
- Mayor Dave Napier said it’s the taxpayer’s money and it’s never a bad thing to look around and compare prices.
- The remaining Council members all said they appreciate Land’s work but it’s also prudent to explore options.
- Before leaving the room for the discussion, Land made a statement saying she respected the Council’s prerogative to compare prices and expressing her appreciation for the time with West St. Paul and hoped she could continue.
The proposal was approved on a 5-1 vote with Vitelli voting no. The city will put out an RFP and staff will narrow down candidates with the Council doing final interviews. At this point the Council is just comparing options and there is still a chance that Land and Levander, Gillen, and Miller will continue to provide legal services.
City Council got another look at the 2023 budget during the OCWS. The general fund budget is increasing by about $1.4 million
- Priorities: The budget focuses on long-term financial stability, investing in a stable, well-qualified workforce and public safety, and technology improvements that can deliver a higher return on investment.
- New costs: Most of the increases are concentrated on staff, with new employees (including police officers), increased pay, and improved benefits.
- Tax increase: The city is looking at a 6.1% property tax increase, which amounts to $167 per year for the average household. (Learn more about how property taxes work.) Both Mayor Dave Napier and Vitelli said they weren’t happy with that high of an increase, but there really weren’t places to cut. City Manager Nate Burkett said they could make $200,000 to $300,000 in cuts without impacting core services next year, but it would hurt future years and result in higher tax increases in the future. One of the current priorities is to maintain a stable tax rate that doesn’t make extreme swings each year.
- What’s next: There will be a public hearing and final approval on December 12.
Other Items on the Agenda
- 2023 road projects: Council held a public hearing for the 2023 mill and overlay projects, initially presented last month. No one from the public spoke.
- Alcohol and tobacco compliance checks: Four local businesses failed the annual police compliance checks for alcohol and tobacco products: Lafayette Tobacco Shop and Marathon gas station for tobacco and Southview Country Club and Jameson’s Irish Bar for alcohol. Council approved the recommended fines for all four.
- Open houses: There are two open houses this week, one on Wednesday, November 16 at city hall for the Annapolis street reconstruction project and one on Thursday, November 17 at Two Rivers High School for Delaware Avenue safety improvements.
- Election results: City Council officially approved the 2022 general election results. The city registered 501 new voters on election day and had a voter turnout rate of 67% for city races.
Learn more about how city council works with our Guide to West St. Paul City Council.
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