John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Census Participation in Real Time

The 2010 Census website offers a handy widget, with live updates of the number of census surveys that have been returned, which you can slice in many different ways (state, county, city, etc.). Here's the widget for Maplewood:

Maplewood's participation rate in 2000 was 85%. That's above the state and national averages, but I think we can do better yet!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Build America Bonds

For this year's bond sale, Maplewood is considering the possibility of selling Build America Bonds rather than the traditional tax-exempt municipal bonds. Build America Bonds pay interest that is taxable income to the bondholder, but the federal government pays a rebate to the bond issuer. For some tax brackets the result may be a wash, but this makes BABs potentially attractive to some investors who would not otherwise buy munis -- for example, retirees who may be in lower income tax brackets, or IRA holders whose investments are tax exempt or tax-deferred. Greater demand for BABs versus traditional munis generally translates into lower net interest costs to the cities that issue them.

Yesterday the Minnesota Independent had an interesting article on the topic of Build America Bonds, discussing concerns expressed about them by some people.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Support from the Ad-Hoc Commission

At last week's council meeting, during the discussion of options for the former CoPar property in the Fish Creek area, I made reference to an e-mail sent to the city council by the members of the now-completed Fish Creek Greenway Ad-Hoc Commission. I think it's worth sharing:

March 5, 2010

Dear Mr. Mayor and City Council Members:

On behalf of the members of the former Fish Creek Natural Area Greenway Ad-hoc Commission who are listed at the end of this letter, I am writing in support of the proposal to issue an Economic Development Authority bond to purchase the former CoPar property in south Maplewood. We believe this is a very creative approach for the city to act upon its stated desire to protect some or all of this natural area. Unfortunately, I will be out of town next week when you take up this matter, so I would like to share some thoughts regarding the proposal.

Mr. Konewko contacted me late last week to discuss this idea, shortly after the property was listed. As the chair of the former commission, I contacted all of the voting members of that commission, as well as several ex officio members, to seek their input regarding the proposal. They unanimously supported pursuing this opportunity.

Below are some of the major points that came out of those conversations:

1) The price at which the property is listed is a bargain the city is unlikely to ever see again. It also means the property is likely to sell quickly, and while no-one can predict when such a sale might occur, there is a very real concern that the property will be purchased before a referendum could be brought to the voters this November.

2) Purchase of the property would put the city “in the driver’s seat”, allowing us to ensure protection of the most sensitive areas, development trails, and public access to the creek and bluffs – thereby achieving the majority of recommendations made in the Fish Creek commission’s report to city council. It would also allow the city greater control over the design of any development that does occur, allowing us to minimize its environmental footprint.

3) Development of the northernmost parcel, along Carver Ave., makes sense and is supported by the former commission members. Having residents in this area may even help reduce misuse of the open space areas, by having more “eyes and ears” in the area, especially near the main access point to the property (Henry Lane).

4) The former commission members are still committed to the vision for Fish Creek outlined in the report to city council. They all expressed a desire to avoid development in the parcels south of Fish Creek, if at all possible. They suggested that if development of the property is phased, starting with the Carver Ave. parcel, this could provide the city the time it needs to explore a variety of funding sources to “buy back” some or all of the bond, thus reducing or eliminating the need for development in the parcels south of Fish Creek. The low list price makes it much more likely that the city could secure sufficient funds to do this and all of the partner agencies represented on the former commission (Ramsey County, Watershed District, National Park Service, Friends of the Mississippi River) expressed interest in assisting the city to seek those funds.

5) If the city still decides to pursue a referendum to prevent development of the south parcel(s), purchasing the property now allows the city to bring the referendum at a time when the economic climate might make passage more likely. Additional time would also allow the city time to engage in a better process to craft a referendum that addresses needs beyond the Fish Creek area. Moreover, the current open space referendum sunsets in 2014 and residents may be more likely to support another park/public lands referendum if it is perceived as a extension of the existing levy, rather than one added on top of it.

In summary, given the long-standing desire of the city and residents to protect this area of Maplewood, this appears to be an investment opportunity of a lifetime, and one that comes with little or no risk to the city. It allows us to obtain the property at a price we could only have dreamed of, provides us the time to seek funds to protect all of the land from development (except the Carver Ave parcel), and if we fail in that mission, the city can still recover its investment while ensuring ecologically sound development of some of the area while securing access and recreational opportunities for our residents.

We want to thank the council for the time and attention being paid to the Fish Creek greenway area in general, and this opportunity in particular. If we can provide any information to assist you in your deliberations, please let me know.

Respectfully yours,

Ginny Yingling
Commissioner, Environment & Natural Resources Commission
Members of the Fish Creek Natural Area Greenways Commission (all reviewed and approved this letter):

Cliff Aichinger, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District
Ron Cockriel, Friends of Maplewood Nature
Ginny Gaynor, City of Maplewood
John Moriarty, Ramsey County Parks
Carolyn Peterson, Maplewood Parks Commission

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Monday, March 15, 2010

More on the Line Item Vetoes

Politics in Minnesota has a story up about Pawlenty's line-item vetoes (which included axing the EMFTF). It observes, "Pawlenty restricted many of his vetoes to districts represented by Democrats." I guess this is Pawlenty's idea of bipartisanship, his way of thanking the DFL-controlled legislature for revising its original bonding bill to include Pawlenty's own pet projects, such as the upgrades to the sex offender facility in Moose Lake (remember those news stories about 50" plasma TVs?).


Fire Training Facility Vetoed by Pawlenty

We just received word that Governor Pawlenty has used the line-item veto to eliminate funding for the East Metro Regional Fire Training Facility.

I guess he's maintaining his budget-slashing reputation for the national audience of his presidential ambitions. Too bad it's at the expense of safety for the East Metro.

I really hope our next governor, whatever his or her party may be, is not such a relentless enemy to local government.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tracking Census Returns

Like gazillions of other Metro area elected officials, I received this e-mail from Peter Bell, chair of the Met Council, a couple of weeks ago.

Dear Local Elected Officials:

The 2010 Census is right around the corner, and the U.S. Census Bureau has issued a challenge for local officials to help encourage community participation in the census.

Census forms will be delivered in the mail to every household in the U.S. on March 15-17. The 2010 Census only has 10 questions, which officials estimate will take only 10 minutes to complete. Those households that complete and mail back their census forms by April 15 will not require any follow-up visits from the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau has launched the “Take 10” challenge for local officials to encourage their communities to take 10 minutes as soon as the forms come in the mail, complete them, and mail them back. The bureau has launched a website that will track mail-back participation for communities, as compared to the rates of return in the 2000 Census. Nationwide, 72 percent of households mailed back their forms.

The website also has an electronic toolkit with information about the census, sample speeches and letters to the editor, and other materials to help you rally your communities to send in their census forms. In addition, there are some ideas for you to have a little fun with the effort, to challenge your neighboring communities to have a higher rate of mailing back forms.

Visit the “Take 10” site at

Census officials emphasize the importance of achieving an accurate count – there is still the possibility that Minnesota may lose a seat in Congress, and that’s more likely to affect the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Millions of dollars in federal funds are also at stake in the census. And it’s critical to get as accurate a picture of the region as we plan for future development.

Taking 10 minutes to fill out the census as soon as it comes will enhance the accuracy of the count.

Peter Bell
Metropolitan Council

Starting tomorrow, census forms will arrive in the mail. Besides reminding us all of the importance of filling out those forms — one of Minnesota's congressional seats hangs in the balance — Mr. Bell's message includes a link to a neat interactive map, where the Census Bureau will be reporting the participation rates. Right now the map shows participation rates from the 2000 census — I can see for example that my immediate neighborhood then had a rate of 84%, compared to 78% for Minnesota as a whole and 72% nation-wide. It's nice to be above average, but I hope we can do even better this time!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Site Upgrades

We're doing some upgrades to the website at the end of this week, which will require the Atom feed to be discontinued permanently. We're consolidating the feeds, so only the Feedburner feed will work from now on. If you're signed up for the Atom feed, please re-subscribe to our Feedburner feed now. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Service Interruption

Just a heads up: This website may be unavailable for a bit in the next couple of days, as we alter things to accommodate upcoming changes in the way the Blogger service works. Hopefully the transition will be brief and relatively painless.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Purple Heart

Part of last night's city council meeting made the evening news: the story of a 5th grade class from Maplewood's Weaver Elementary trying to help World War II veteran Russell Anderson get his Purple Heart was the topic of a segment on KARE11's newscast. You can read the story and view video on their website (the video is in the right hand column, somewhat hidden among the ads).

Edit: Here's a better link for the video.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mayoral Missives

I see Mayor Rossbach has been busy on his blog this weekend, serving up Maplewood news. Check out his posts on skywarn spotter training, the Extreme Green Makeover, and the impending demise of NEST (North East Suburban Transit).

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Report from the 2010 Retreat

For anyone looking for some light weekend reading with lots of bullet points, I've uploaded the Executive Summary prepared by the facilitator following our February 5th council/staff retreat.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Primary and Special Election Date: August 10th

As expected, the bill to change the Minnesota state primary date from September to August was passed by both houses, and yesterday Gov. Pawlenty signed it into law, as reported by media such as the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

The new primary date is August 10th this year. For Maplewood, this means August 10th is also the date for the special election for Mayor Rossbach's former council seat. The Citizen Services department has informed the City Council that, based on the new date, the filing period for special election candidates begins on May 18th.

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