John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unallotment Again

It looks like the governor and legislature failed to reach any agreement on the budget last night. The governor has said he will not call a special session, but will use vetoes to block tax increases and then line item vetoes and unallotment to balance the budget unilaterally. As with the unallotment that happened at the end of last year, this will have an impact on Maplewood as the state will not deliver the previously budgeted Market Value Homestead Credit. At this point the details of MVHC unallotment are not know. I would not be surprised if, like in December, we lose it all.

The silver lining of this cloud for Maplewood is that, compared to many other cities, we get relatively little money from the state. We don't have any LGA (local government aid) to lose, for example. Still, losing MVHC is going to have a significant impact.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Levy Limits and Unintended Consequences

Last year, the governor and legislature passed levy limits on Minnesota cities. In simple terms, the law stated that cities could increase their tax levies by a maximum of 3.9% or the implicit price deflator (a measure of inflation for state and local governments), whichever is less. (There are other complications allowing a certain amount for population growth, exceptions for debt levies, etc.)

Last year the IPD was 6.1%, driven by factors like skyrocketing prices on petroleum, so cities were limited to 3.9% levy increases, less than the rate of inflation. But this year, the IPD has been calculated as only 0.76%, this time reflecting the falling prices of commodities and services in the global economic slowdown.

Cities could see this coming last year; inflation numbers come out every month, so it was obvious in the fall that the upcoming IPD calculation was going to be much lower than it was a year before. This set up a perverse incentive for cities -- knowing that they were not going to be allowed to keep up with inflation in their 2009 levies (to say nothing of how they knew state aid and credits would be cut as the state faced its own budgetary woes), and then that the decline in the IPD would mean even lower levy limits for the 2010 levy, the rational course of action for cities across Minnesota was to raise their levies right to the limit as a way to hedge against the future limits, especially if they didn't need to. Thus, in some cities the levy limit law may have delivered the exact opposite of its intended result -- it encouraged cities to focus on maximizing their levy increases, rather than minimizing them.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Stillwater Road News

The city council received some great news about Stillwater Road on Friday. This is a proposed project for drainage and trail improvements, and is driven by residents concerned about safety in their neighborhood. We were disappointed to hear, not too long ago, that we did not get the Safe Routes to Schools grant that was hoped for (you can read more in Sen. Wiger's latest newsletter). But this was followed by the good news that we did make the cut in applying for stimulus funding for this project. It's not a certainty, but it is very, very likely now that the project will be funded.

I think Public Works Director Chuck Ahl's e-mail to the city council and other interested parties is worth sharing:

Council/Stillwater Road Residents/Area Legislators:

Our Stillwater Road Trail Improvement project was submitted for consideration of ARRA (Stimulus) Funding to the Metropolitan Council and was evaluated this week by the Technical Advisory Committee – Funding and Programming sub-Committee. Our project was one of 50 projects submitted in the metro area for a total amount of money available of $7.5 million. The TAC-Funding and Programming Committee decided to fund just 10 of the 50 projects.

I am very excited to inform you that we ranked number 6 out of the 50 proposals and Thursday late in the afternoon our project moved another step forward in the selection process! We are now reasonably confident that we will be receiving $800,000 of ARRA funding later this year for this important project. There are at least three more committee approvals necessary in the process at Met Council during the month of May before we are assured of the money, but at least we are not one of the 40 projects that did not receive funds. My experience with this process is that we are 90-95% likely to receive this funding.

While this might have been the toughest part of this project [getting the necessary ARRA funding], we now have to deliver as a “shovel-ready” project. We need to have all the plans, approvals and federal requirements completed and approved before November 13, 2009 or we lose the money. While that does not necessarily mean a construction start, it means that you have to be ready to start construction well in advance of that date. We cannot underestimate the amount of time and effort to meet all the federal requirements. I would suggest that we plan to get ready for a mid-September 2009 project start so that we do not jeopardize this amazing award of funds.

As I have mentioned before, John and Mark, as neighborhood coordinators, you have done an amazing job of moving this project along. We are going to have to rely upon your neighborhood and your efforts [again] to provide the necessary support in order to move through the federal and ARRA approval [and transparency] requirements so that we meet the project requirements.

Thanks to everyone’s efforts. If I might be so bold as to put a plug in for the City Council, too; they took a risk and funded $60,000 for the project planning that in the final analysis at Met Council, allowed this project to score the highest number of points in the “project readiness” category that allowed us to jump ahead of 5-10 other projects that were not as far along in the process.

Great News and great job by all involved!



Sunday, May 03, 2009

Fish Creek in the News

The Sunday Pioneer Press features an article about CoPar's property by Fish Creek in south Maplewood and the city's hopes to acquire some of the land for conservation. This follows another article in Wednesday's paper about the city's effort to extend the option to buy the land.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Credit Where Due

In my time observing Maplewood's city council, I've generally come to regard Diana Longrie as a mediocre lawyer at best. But when it comes to the traditional lawyerly skill of twisting language to make a statement narrowly true, while conveying a fundamentally misleading message, I have to give her credit. Her lengthy article in the latest city newsletter contains a great example:
Just last month (April 2009), Council member John Nephew brought forward his theory contending some of Maplewood’s publicly owned open spaces or parks are destined for private ownership.
Of course, the actual theory in my article was that the Mayor herself is laying groundwork to privatize city parks and open spaces, starting with her long-running scheme to put control over them in private hands via conservation easements. This theory stems, of course, from the observation that you can't really take Ms. Longrie's statements at face value, as she has once again demonstrated.


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