John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Friday, July 30, 2010

Review Profiles Special Election Candidates

The front page of this week's Maplewood Review profiles the three candidates running in the city council special election on August 10th, and you can find the article online as well.

Given that I ran to replace Ms. Cave, and given Ms. Sletten's tight association with former Mayor Longrie (as well as knowing her from her frequent appearances in front of the council), it should come as no surprise that I'm supporting Marv Koppen in this race.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why did the Accident Victim Cross the Road?

Our neighbors in North Saint Paul have passed a new ordinance charging "a $350 fee for non-residents who require emergency services in the city following a car accident," reports the Maplewood Review. On some of our border streets, will this mean whether or not you are billed the fee depends on if you were in the eastbound or westbound lane? (And if you have a choice of which side of the road to pull over to, should this influence your decision?)

In any case, expect to see more things like this in cities all over the state, as they try to hold down property taxes while recovering from the hit-and-run of past LGA/MVHC unallotments and trying to scramble out of the way of the semi-trailer of future state budget woes that is still barreling down the fiscal highway.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2010 Home Value Changes

Earlier this year, our city manager passed along a document from Ramsey County with statistics on the changes in single family home estimated market values in cities across the county, comparing 2010 to 2009.

For Maplewood, those changes are:

-50% or LESS2
-40% to-50%1
-30% to -40%2
-20% to -30%131
-10% to -20%1,982
0% to -10%5,150
0% - 10%30
10% - 20%9
20% - 30%2
30% - 40%1
40% - 50%0
50% or More1

This graph provides an easy glance at the distribution of value changes:


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gerten Pond

The 2009-2013 and 2010-2014 Capital Improvement Plans both include a project called "Gerten Pond Draining Improvements." The 2009-2013 plan anticipated the project in 2011-2012; the next CIP moved it back to 2012-2013. The project was described as follows:
A trunk drainage pipe collects upstream runoff and runs under Hwy 36 and outlets into Gerten Pond. This trunk drainage pipe backs up at times into surrounding commercial property and highway ditches between Gervais Ave and Hwy 36. An overall draining study should be conducted in order to identify deficiencies and then make the necessary improvements.
In this year's draft CIP, the project no longer is a stand-alone item, but has been incorporated into the Highway 36/English interchange improvements.

I was pleased to see the recent eNewsletter from Congresswoman Betty McCollum report that our city's request for funding was included a bill approved by the the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, of which she is a member. Her newsletter reports,
City of Maplewood: Gerten Pond Improvements - $1,000,000. A major urban body of water, the Gerten Pond serves a large industrial and residential area in Maplewood, Minnesota. The requested funding will support improvements, drainage system revisions, and local environmental improvements to enhance the efficiency of storm water sewers.
While the appropriations process has a long way to go and the outcome is not guaranteed, it's great news to have a chance at federal funding for this important project. Congratulations and thanks to Mayor Rossbach and City Manager Antonen, who brought this funding request to Washington earlier this year when they attended the National League of Cities conference, and of course thanks to Rep. McCollum as well.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

CIP Confusion and the Gladstone Savannah

I've been watching the replay of this past week's Parks Commission meeting, in which they voted against endorsing the proposed 2011-2015 Capital Improvement Plan. Unfortunately, there seems to be a persistent confusion through the meeting about how the CIP works.

For example, one concern was the proposed spending of Park Availability Charge funds on the Gladstone Savannah. A report to the City Council summarizing the Parks Commission concerns states, “The Parks and Recreation also made a motion to fund additional projects by cutting back on the Gladstone project and all non-Gladstone PAC fees be redirected to the unfunded projects identified.”

For years, the CIP has included seemingly imminent spending on the Gladstone Savannah. But very little if any has actually been spent. Here's how the project finances were described in the four most recent CIPs:
  • 2008-2012 CIP, p. 73: $900,000 to be spent in 2008; $100,000 in 2010; $500,000 in 2011; for $1.5 million total. All funds are identified as coming from the Park Development Fund.
  • 2009-2013 CIP, p. 69: This page seems to be erroneous – it reports $900,000 spent in prior years (which I don't think is true); $100,000 in 2010; $500,000 in 2011. Again, all funds are listed as coming from the Park Development Fund, with a total of $1.5 million across the CIP years. I'm guessing that the intent was just to move all the same figures a year forward instead.
  • 2010-2014 CIP, p. 65: This CIP listed prior year expenditures as $80,000 total. It also identifies a second funding sources: Special Assessment bonds (which were expected to be part of a redevelopment plan on the Tourist Cabins site) in addition to the Park Development Fund. Half of the prior year expenditures ($40,000 each) was to be allocated to each funding source. For 2010, we were supposedly going to spend $920,000 on the Savannah, half from the Park fund and half from Special Assessments. In 2012, $400,000 from park funds was identified; and again $400,000 in 2014. The grand total for the project in this CIP: $1.8 million.
  • 2011-2015 Draft CIP, p. 61: The prior year expenditures have dropped to zero, but a third funding source — the Environmental Utility Fund (which is used for stormwater management) has been added. 2011 expenditures are listed as $1.2 million total: $200,000 from the EUF; $400,000 from Special Assessment bonds; $600,000 from the Park Development Fund. The future expenditures from the Park Development Fund are reduced to $250,000 in 2013 and $250,000 in 2015. As a result of those reductions (and the disappearing prior year expenditures), the grand total for the project in this CIP is lower, at $1.7 million.
Obviously there are some inconsistencies from one document to another, and I'll be sure to ask about that on Monday. (Do we or should we account for the spending already done on things like the soils testing that found contamination?) But the big picture is this: For at least four years in a row, our CIP has projected that we would be putting $900,000+ into the Savannah the very next year — and it has not yet actually happened.

The reason is simple. The proposed Gladstone Savannah improvements have been and remain contingent upon there actually being development moving forward in the neighborhood. Every year it seems like that might finally happen (some approvals related to the latest effort are on our agenda for Monday), and so the related parks expenditures are included in the CIP for the next year. And so far, the development has failed to materialize. With no development, and no related PAC money, the Savannah improvements keep getting pushed off into the future. Each year the details change a little bit according to whatever is the current plan in the works (will it be assessed in part to a developer? will it include stormwater management features? etc.).

While respecting and agreeing with the intent of the Parks Commission, it appears that they are asking the city to do exactly what this CIP does in practice, just as the past CIPs have done. Without development in the neighborhood, there isn't money for the Savannah; but that doesn't mean there's any funding freed up for any of the other unfunded priorities in the park system. I don't see that there are any "non-Gladstone PAC fees" here to be redirected to other projects.

Moreover, note that the amount of projected funding coming from the Park Development Fund drops from $1.5 million in 2008-2012; to $1.3 million in 2010-2014; and now to $1.1 million in 2011-2015. So besides implicitly waiting for local PAC fees to be generated by development, just like past CIPs, this draft CIP proposes using $400,000 less from the Parks fund as well.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

A New Standard for Variances

This week's LMC Cities Bulletin includes an article about Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka, a decision issued on June 24th by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The decision will have a major impact on land use decisions by cities, since it overturns the previous standard (from a 1989 appellate court decision) about what constitutes “undue hardship” and justifies a variance. The new ruling sets a much stricter standard, requiring that a “property cannot be put to a reasonable use without the variance.”

I have not yet had a chance to download and read the opinion itself, but at first glance it seems that this should have an immediate impact on how our city council makes decisions on matters such as the requested wetland buffer variance on Monday's council meeting agenda (item J6).

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Maplewood, pop. 37,755

The official population estimates for 2009 are in from the Met Council. Maplewood is estimated to have a population of 37,755 and 15,094 households, compared to 35,258 and 13,758 in the 2000 census. State law requires the Met Council to generate these estimates each year. Results from the 2010 census are expected in February or March of next year.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

LEMA Fundraiser Today at Champps

Thinking you might eat out for lunch or dinner today? Champps would be an especially good choice. Today several Champps restaurants, including the one in Maplewood (1734 Adolphus Street, right by Larpenteur and 35E), are hosting a fundraising event. 10% of all sales today, including adult beverages, will be donated to LEMA, the Law Enforcement Memorial Association.

If you were amazed as I was by the coordination that went into the funeral for Sgt. Bergeron earlier this year, be aware that most of the credit goes to LEMA, who stood ready to help while our community was still reeling in shock and grief from his murder.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Home Foreclosure Scams

One side issue of the home foreclosure crisis in Minnesota has been a huge increase in loan modification scams. Reports of these scams to the Federal Trade Commission rocketed from just one in 2008 to nearly 8,000 the following year. Many people are aware that there are legitimate programs to help people who get behind on their mortgages or are "under water," and scam artists often prey on people by appearing to be legitimate.

A coalition of businesses, nonprofits, and government have developed a campaign called "Look Before You Leap" to educate consumers, help them identify fraudulent offers, and connect them with legitimate loan modification and credit counseling resources.

The Star Tribune recently ran a story about the campaign and loan modification scams.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

McCollum Interview

Here's the second brief interview I recorded this past weekend, this one with Maplewood's congresswoman, Betty McCollum.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fishing Pier Dedication

Tuesday evening, July 13th, my family and I enjoyed attending the dedication ceremony at Wakefield Park for the new fishing pier and picnic shelter. A plaque was presented to the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association, in appreciation for the funding they helped provide for the pier. MinnAqua did a “Let’s Fish” program with the Community Center day camp kids that evening as well, putting the new pier to immediate good use!

My wife took this picture of Mayor Rossbach and the ceremonial first cast from the new pier:

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Problem for PACE

Last month I referenced the energy improvements financing program that was included in legislation passed this year. Such programs are often referred to as PACE, for "Property Assessed Clean Energy."

Unfortunately, these programs have encountered a snag: The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees entities such as Fannie Mae, issued a statement on July 6 about the impact of such programs on mortgage lending. The problem, in brief, is that PACE programs dictate that the loans for energy improvements become senior liens on the real estate — meaning they have a higher priority than the mortgage lender in terms of being paid in case of a foreclosure. As you may have heard, a lot of mortgage lenders have been facing some difficulties in the past few years (to put it mildly), and FHFA is concerned that PACE programs increase the risk to lenders.

The result is a set of new restrictions on the entities that FHFA regulates. As one local official from Colorado quoted in The Wall Street Journal puts it, "They're basically saying they'll redline communities that move forward with PACE financing." One of the steps being required, for example, is "Adjusting loan-to-value ratios to reflect the maximum permissible PACE loan amount available to borrowers in PACE jurisdictions" — effectively meaning that if you buy a house in a city where PACE loans are available, you'll have to make a larger down payment to account for the possibility that you might take out such a loan.

As I understand it, Minnesota's PACE program is not yet set up. This new wrinkle may delay and alter its implementation, and may also hurt its appeal if the result is for loans not to be senior liens (which would mean more risk for the local governments implementing the program).

(h/t to City Mgr. Antonen for providing a copy of the FHFA statement and a link to the WSJ article to the City Council.)

According to an AP article this evening, the California Attorney General is suing FHFA over its decision.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gunyou Interview

John Gunyou is the endorsed DFL candidate for Lieutenant Governor. I found him an intriguing choice for running mate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, not only for his background as a finance commissioner in the Carlson administration (an important qualification considering the fiscal challenges Minnesota faces) but his more recent work as city manager of Minnetonka.

I had a chance to record a very short interview this past weekend with Mr. Gunyou at a DFL door-knocking event, where I asked him about the relationship between the state and local governments.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Body Art

It's that time of year, when laws from the legislative session of the spring start going into effect. One of the new laws this year is state regulation of individuals and establishments performing body art such as tattoos, piercings, and more unusual modifications.

Last week's Maplewood Review includes an article on the topic. And as it happens, inspired by Rachel Carlson's blog (which I learned about at the recent LMC conference), I had already written an e-mail to city staff on July 1st, asking what we should do to bring Maplewood's city code in line with the new state rules.

Carlson explains:
Cities that previously regulated body art establishments may continue to do so – if their local ordinances are as strict as the state requirements. It should be noted that establishments in cities with local ordinances will not need to obtain the new state license.

Cities may not continue to license persons practicing body art. These practitioners must now be licensed exclusively by the state.
Unless it has been amended since the last codification, Article XVII of our city code regulates tattoo establishments (pages 281-291 of the code PDF on the website). It appears to license individuals, which would seem to be prohibited under the new state law, as well as locations. I haven't read enough to know if our current ordinances are at least as strict as the state requirements, but at a minimum it appears we need to amend the code to be in compliance with the updated state statutes. Searching the PDF, I don't find any references to other types of body art covered by the state law.

Since the state is stepping into handling licensing and regulation in this area, there's also the question, as Carlson notes, of whether or not the city wants to be in the tattoo, piercings, brandings, scarification, and tongue-bifurcation regulation business. Is there any compelling reason that we should be, now that the state is taking it on?

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Bunny Break


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crime Declines From 09

Back in January, I noted here that the Maplewood Police Department reported a broad decline in crime in 2009 compared to 2008. The city manager this past week passed along information on the crime statistics for the first half of 2010, which so far show further declines:

The Police Department traditionally tracks the following crime categories on a monthly basis. Others are tracked annually. Of the seven categories listed, in a comparison of the first six months of this year to the first six of 2009, we have seen across the board decreases. The percentage decreases, year to date, are listed.

Criminal Damage to property-28%
Theft from Vehicle-10%
Theft- .3%
Auto theft- 2%


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