Community members packed city hall for a public hearing on a proposed mental health center, which West St. Paul City Council voted unanimously to approve. Council also approved the 2023 budget, approved purchasing the Hy-Vee property, and reviewed the new bike and pedestrian plan.
Retirement of Dick Vitelli
Council Member Dick Vitelli was honored during his final meeting after serving nearly 24 years on City Council (making him the third longest serving Council member in history).
- Kind words: “Thank you to the West St. Paul residents who over the years have supported me with mostly kind words,” Vitelli said. “It makes the job a little bit easier.”
- Family history: “My dad served on Council and inspired me,” Vitelli said, getting chocked up. His father, Anthony Vitelli, served as mayor and on Council in the 1950s. “He always said, ‘Be a leader, not a follower.'”
Proposed Mental Health Crisis Center
Dakota County and Guild Services have proposed a mental health crisis center at the Northern Dakota County Government Center. This will replace an existing facility in South St. Paul with 16 beds for short-term treatment and add drop-in services.
- Pushback: Nearby residents have pushed back on the project, citing security concerns.
- Engagement: Multiple neighborhood meetings have been held to address concerns and City Council discussed the proposal at their last meeting.
- Conditions: A number of conditions have been added to the project, including requiring fencing, security cameras, transportation for discharged patients, and city review of intake policies.
- Community voices: The public had an opportunity to weigh in during a public hearing, with 34 people speaking for an hour and a half. Roughly four out of five people spoke in support of the project.
Vote: Ultimately, West St. Paul’s City Council approved the project unanimously.
More: Read our separate article for more in-depth coverage.
Buying Hy-Vee Land
The City of West St. Paul is buying the Hy-Vee/YMCA land. The plan was approved during the Economic Development Authority (EDA) meeting.
The initial plan was to bring in a developer to ultimately purchase the property, but the city ran out of time to finalize a deal. Instead the city is borrowing to buy the land, creating time to finalize the deal, and recoup any extra expenses in the sale.
What’s the plan? The city is still pursing mix of development including housing, a restaurant, and community space, as pitched to City Council in September.
What’s the hold up? The primary issue is qualifying for tax increment financing (TIF). The land isn’t blighted enough to qualify, mainly because the old YMCA building has already been torn down. They need special permission from the state legislature to do it. City officials are confident they can get that permission, but it’s going to take time. High interest rates and construction costs are also making the deal difficult.
Debate: Mayor Dave Napier and Council Member Vitelli were opposed to the plan, citing risk to the taxpayers. The remaining Council members were supportive and saw the upside of controlling the development and being able to bring a restaurant and public amenities. Losing control could risk those benefits, something the community has spoken against.
Vote: Ultimately, the EDA approved the purchase on a 5-2 vote with Napier and Vitelli voting no.
Council approved the final budget for 2023 and the corresponding property tax levy:
- Budget: $42.7 million
- Tax levy: 5.88% increase (down from the proposed levy increase of 6.1%)—this amounts to $203 for the average home.
The budget focuses on priorities of a safe community (adding two new police officers), stable workforce (wage and benefit increases), quality infrastructure (park, street, and utility maintenance and improvements), and financial stability (reducing the tax rate).
Other Items on the Agenda
- Police: Mayor Napier swore in a new police officer, Tommy Xiong.
- Marijuana licenses: The city received three applicants for specialty intoxicating THC retailers with only two licenses available. City Council had to choose between Lafayette Tobacco, Nothing But Hemp, and North 40 Tavern. North 40 Tavern was disqualified for being too close to a school. Further debate centered around whether or not Lafayette Tobacco should be disqualified for a failed compliance check and if ISD 197’s early childhood center qualified as an “educational institutional.” Additional questions arose about when the moratorium went into effect and if Lafayette Tobacco was selling intoxicating THC products before the moratorium. Ultimately both measures related to THC retailers were continued to January.
- Communication: During the Open Council Work Session, Council again discussed minimum communication standards for city projects. The goal is better engagement with the community.
- Annapolis: OCWS also included an update on the Annapolis street project. There will be some parking added to Dodd north of the Annapolis intersection.
- Bike & Pedestrian plan: OCWS also reviewed the updated Bike & Pedestrian Plan and Council approved it during the regular meeting.
- Salt storage: Council held a public hearing and approved setting specific storage requirements for salt and de-icers.
- Performance measurement: As part of a strategic plan to do more performance measurement, a grad student developed a plan and presented findings during OCWS.
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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