John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Thursday, April 29, 2010

More on Insurance

This week's Maplewood Review includes a story with more information about our reduced insurance deductible, a topic I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

DFL Convention Video: Auditors of Rock

At this past weekend's DFL convention, a little ritual unfolded with each candidate nominated for endorsement. First someone would endorse, which supposed to be just the name of a proposed candidate. Then it was necessary to have 50 delegates second the endorsement, by raising hands. Then the supporters of the candidate were given time to demonstrate -- this usually involved a lot of marching around the convention, cheering, sign waving, etc. -- and the candidate was given a chance to address the convention.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who is seeking reelection and faced no challenge for her endorsement, offered the most entertaining demonstration by far. She turned the stage over to her teenage son's band. She explained that she had suggested the name themselves "The Auditors of Rock," but they decided to go with "Radium" instead.

I didn't grab the camera fast enough to get the very start of their song, but here is most of the performance:

Unfortunately, I missed a funny parliamentary moment that happened immediately after: Party chair Brian Melendez rose to a point of personal privilege, to ask if the band new any ABBA songs. And if not, he offered a motion to close nominations.

Here is Rebecca Otto speaking, followed by the convention endorsing her:

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

DFL Convention Video: Rukavina Endorses Kelliher

This past weekend we went to Duluth and I attended the Minnesota DFL State Convention. I had a video camera with me, and recorded a little bit, though lacking a tripod and holding a camera up above my head to see over a crowd made for shaky images.

Rep. Tom Rukavina impressed me as a political speaker, exhorting the convention with obvious passion and leavening his speech with self-deprecating humor. (One of his memorable lines, which I'd heard before, was his recounting one voter on the campaign trail who told him he was like "the love child of Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura." I also liked a pin for him that I saw a delegate wearing, with the tag line "Reducing the Size of Government" reference to his height, not his political philosophy!)

When it was announced that he was going to address the convention again — which is usually a sign that someone is going to graciously bow out in light of how the balloting is going — I remembered to pull out my camera and record it. Here it is:

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Clean-Up Day 2010

Tomorrow, April 24th, is the 2010 Spring Clean-Up Day in Maplewood. If you are a Maplewood resident, you can bring items for disposal to Aldrich Arena from 8 AM to 1 PM. More information is available on the city's website.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Parks & Rec Survey

Maplewood is running an online survey about parks and recreation in our city. Input is sought from both residents and non-residents. If you can, please take a moment to follow the link and fill out the survey. Thank you!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Good News: Bond Upgrade, Low Interest Rates

On top of last week's good news about a reduction in our special insurance deductibles, last night our bond advisors let the City Council know that the City of Maplewood received an upgrade to its bond rating.

Since 1998, Maplewood has held an Aa2 bond rating from Moody's. This year we were rated by Standard & Poor's, who gave us AA+ — the equivalent of a Moody's Aa1, and only one step down from triple-A ("AAA" at S&P, "Aaa" at Moody's), the highest rating possible. (Wikipedia has a handy chart that shows the equivalent terminology for different credit rating agencies.)

Just like for personal loans and mortgages, better credit ratings on the city's bonds mean lower interest rates. The results were apparent in the bond sale yesterday, as we borrowed money for this year's public works projects. Much of the borrowing itself is to allow residents and business to pay special assessments over time rather than all at once, so the savings will be passed along to the property owners whose streets are being rebuilt.

We sold "Build America Bonds," a financing tool created last year by President Obama's stimulus plan. Unlike traditional municipal bonds, interest on BABs is not exempt from income tax. As a result, their owners are paid higher interest rates — but the federal government rebates 35% of that interest cost to the bond issuer. In theory, this might be a wash, on the assumption that munis get sold to individuals and corporations who are in the highest tax brackets. But in practice, there is more demand for the BABs; you are buying the credit quality and stability of a municipal issuer while getting a higher coupon rate, and not paying for a tax exemption that may be of less value (if the bond holder is in a lower tax bracket, if it's held in a tax-free account like an IRA or HSA, or if the bond holder itself is exempt from income taxes). More demand means lower rates.

The winning bid in yesterday's bond sale was a true interest rate of 4.5630%. Taking into account the federal rebate, the net interest rate is just 3.0222% — a healthy improvement over last year's rate of approximately 3.4%.

Following the policy we established last year, these savings will be reflected in the interest rate applied to special assessments, which should be around 5% for this year's assessments versus the 5.4% applied last year.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Good News: Deductible Reduced

City Manager Antonen notified the council that this past Wednesday he attended a meeting of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust board. On the agenda was Maplewood's upcoming policy renewal.

Two years ago, shortly after I had joined the city council, special terms and a higher deductible were applied to Maplewood because of the city's extraordinarily bad claims history in the 2006-2007 period. Those terms increased our deductible from $50,000 per incident to $200,000 per incident for employment-related lawsuits.

Thankfully, since I've been on the council we have had no new employment-related lawsuits. One commissioner did sue the city in 2009, but dismissed the suit after her request for a TRO was denied in terms that strongly suggested the court saw no merit in her claim.

So the good news from the LMCIT is that our special deductible is being cut from $200,000 to $100,000. I hope that, with continued good management and sensible policy direction from the city council, it will be reduced even further in the future.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Carp in Lake Gervais

At this evening's council workshop, we had a presentation from the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. Many things about the watershed were discussed, including a survey of carp in local lakes that is part of a study of their impact on phosphorus suspended in our lakes (both in churning it up from the bottom of shallow lakes, and in excreting it themselves).

On the RWMWD's website, I found a link to a slideshow from the carp-counting operation in Lake Gervais. Check it out. Besides an awful lot of carp, you'll see a really enormous muskie that they pulled out of the chilly waters — and put right back in — this past January.


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