John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maximum Levy Decision

In "Maplewood council approves preliminary budget and levy," the Maplewood Review's Derrick Knutson's reports on the council's decision earlier this month to set the maximum levy increase at 5%.

We can reduce this figure as we get closer to a final city budget for 2011, but since we are now past September 15th, it can't be set higher.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Phoning it In

Since I shared an example of a pro-organized-hauling message, I thought I should share an example from the other side.

I have no idea who this is.  I am trying hard to respond to everyone who contacts me, so I'm bummed that she didn't leave a name or contact number.


Calculated Roughness

Some folks have commented to me on how that NWSMA mailing looks, frankly, kind of crappy, not only ugly in layout but with misspellings to boot.  You might wonder why a trade organization would not project a more professional image.

Ah, but there's the genius.  By looking rough, it projects an image of authenticity, like it was composed by hard-working guys after a long shift of demanding physical labor.  Not, say, a high-priced, East Coast-educated lawyer.

In other words, it's calculated to give you the impression that it speaks for the small, local, family-owned hauler -- not the actual organizations represented by NWSMA.  Of the eight haulers licensed in Maplewood, only three are on the NWSMA's member list -- the three largest, multibillion-dollar, nation-wide operations with out-of-state or out-of-country headquarters and executives with compensation as high as eight figures: Allied Waste (which is now part of Republic Industries), Veolia (a multinational conglomerate headquartered in France), and Waste Management (you might remember them from their cooking-the-books accounting scandal back in the Enron days).

These big corporations and their hired guns will stop at nothing to manipulate you and control your local government for their own financial benefit.

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Mailbox: One Resident's Postcard

We're hearing from residents on both sides of the organized hauling debate.  This morning one Maplewood resident sent me a scan of the NWSMA postcard that he is mailing to the city.

The accompanying e-mail adds,

A big part of me hates when big private & quasi/semi-private entities meddle in my local politics. Especially when it involves something as simple as garbage collection. I especially hate when they spam us will big scary propaganda letters filled with innuendo and half-truths.

I am guessing this will be an interesting and passionate fight for many. At one point, I too would never have wanted there to even be a discussion about the subject. Now that I am a little older and a little wiser, I see the big picture. That being the damage the 3+ trucks per day inflict on our streets. Not to mention the landfilling done by certain haulers in the pursuit of profit. As I wrote in the post card…The day the haulers (and especially NSWMA) decide to supplement the maintenance of our roads and agree to haul all of the waste to the Newport facility is the day we can go back to open collection.

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John's Trash FAQ

I wrote this FAQ to gather together my responses to the many questions and comments I've received from residents about organized hauling, by e-mail and telephone,.  Please feel free to download it, print it out, forward it to neighbors, etc. if you are so inclined.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

The NSWMA Mailer

I got hold of the actual mailing that the National Solid Waste Management Association is sending to Maplewood residents, in their effort to shut down discussions of organized collection.

Here is the letter itself:

And here is the back of the postcard they are asking residents to fill out and mail:

The other side is addressed to the city manager, and has a 28 cent postcard stamp attached. The person who received this letter got two postcards — presumably a separate one for each adult in the household.

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Sunday Turkey Break

While leaving City Hall one afternoon this past week, I spotted these wild turkeys and stopped to record some video.  (I removed the audio track, which was just very annoying noise caused by the wind.)  These may be the same ones who we heard about earlier this year; apparently they can be quite aggressive during the mating season.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two Questions

What are the odds that the trash haulers' trade group is spending thousands of dollars to prevent the City of Maplewood from increasing trash hauler profits?

Wouldn't you suppose that they are spending a lot of money to oppose something because they know it would reduce their profits -- and save consumers money?

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Maplewood Review, 9/22/10

This past week's Review has a couple of Maplewood articles worth calling attention to.

The first, "Maplewood saving money with new medical contract," covers the new agreement, approved by the City Council at our last meeting, between the City and St John's Hospital, for medical direction and training for our paramedics.  The cost savings are of course a good thing (and may help hold down the growth in ambulance charges), but I also am pleased to see the City collaborating with our local hospital.

A second article profiles Dr. Marlene Palkovich, who serves on Maplewood's Police Civil Service Commission.  We are very fortunate to have someone with such an impressive professional background and experience as a volunteer for our city.

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Half Price Books Ribbon Cutting

Thursday morning, Mayor Rossbach and I were guests at the ribbon cutting for the new, larger location of Maplewood's Half Price Books, now at 2982 White Bear Ave. N.  With the larger space, a lot of inventory that was back in storage at their previous location in Birch Run Station is now out on the shelves for browsing. Their grand opening celebration continues through Sunday, 9/26, with prizes and giveaways (free tote bags and gift cards for the first 100 people in the door each morning, for example).  Even if you miss the morning line, there's a coupon for each day -- I think Sunday's gives you 50% off the price of any one item, for example.

(Thanks to Kristen B. for sharing the pic.)

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Spotlight on Maplewood - September

I noticed that the new episode of Spotlight on Maplewood, the city's monthly cable TV show, is available online for viewing.  This month's focus is the Public Works department, and includes footage from the city's own sewer-cam!

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

2011 Budget Resource Page

Maplewood staff has set up a handy web page with links to the streaming video archives of all the workshops and meetings we've had this year concerning the 2011 budget.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Mailbox: The 2011 Proposed Levy

Last week I received a letter from a constituent on the topic of the proposed 2011 levy. This is the response I sent:
Thank you for your thoughtful letter dated September 7th. I wanted to respond with some additional information and thoughts about our proposed levy and budget for 2011.

Let me start with your comment that “the city budget should need to be adjusted only for inflation plus population growth.” As a rule of thumb, I agree with this. Circumstances may require a larger increase one year and allow a lower increase or even a decrease in another, but in the long run a city that consistently grows its budget more than inflation and population growth combined is heading for a financial disaster.

If we use your method to guide us, we would need to look back to 2009 in setting the 2011 budget, just to account for how long it takes to get statistics (2009 population estimates were released in mid-July 2010, for example), and the fact that we have to work out the 2011 levy and budget starting in early to middle 2010.

The Met Council's 2008 population estimate for Maplewood was 36,717†; for 2009 (the most recent estimate, released in July), it rose to 37,755††, an increase of 2.83%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics†††, the CPI for all of 2009 was 2.7%. Combine those numbers, whether you use simple addition (2.83% + 2.7% = 5.53% increase) or multiplication (1.0283 x 1.027 = 1.0560641, or a 5.61% increase), and you get a number greater than 5%. It would appear that we propose a levy increase about 10% less than the “population growth and inflation” method says we should.

Even with the proposed 5% levy increase, we are making cuts to most city departments. The total money from the General Fund to all city departments combined will be slightly lower in 2011 than 2010. There are two big factors at play:

  • The loss of money from the state (Market Value Homestead Credit).
  • The need to levy more for the Debt Service Fund, to make payments on the city's bonds.

You've probably heard about “unallotment.” Maplewood didn't have any Local Government Aid left to take away, so instead Governor Pawlenty's unallotments have taken away all of our Market Value Homestead Credit. This is a property tax relief program. In theory, a homeowner gets a lower tax bill than our levy would indicate, and the state promises to pay the difference. What has happened in practice is that homeowners get the credit, but then the state doesn't ever actually pay us, due to their own financial problems. In 2011, this lost MVHC is expected to be about $575,000. Our levy for city operations is planned to increase $550,101 – not actually enough to cover the shortfall.

Since joining the city council in 2008, I have argued for leveling off and then reducing our city's debt, which is mostly related to road construction projects. I believe we should try to have more of a “pay as we go” approach, partly so that we have more budget flexibility in tough economic times like this. We did in fact reduce the city's debt by 3.7% in 2009. However, this shift in long-term planning (as reflected in the latest 5-year Capital Improvement Plan) takes time to have an effect. In the short term, in order to budget for future payments on existing bonds, the debt portion of the city levy is proposed to increase by $333,401, or 9.2%.

You write that we need to “hold the line on increases” in bargaining with city employee unions. We — the City Council and City Manager — agree. The draft budget and proposed levy already assume 0% cost of living increases for all city employees. The city council led the way late last year by canceling the biennial city council salary increase set by ordinance, and also by declining to give City Manager Antonen a salary increase or cost of living adjustment at his annual review earlier this year despite his good evaluation.

The final levy, which can be lower but not higher than the maximum number set in September, will be set in December. We'll continue to look for places to cut and save in the meantime. I encourage you to download the various budget documents and presentations from the city website, watch the budget workshops in the coming months (as well as the archived video recordings of the ones earlier this year, which you can find on the city website), and let the council know your thoughts and ideas as we move forward.

In the meantime, I hope I have at least given you an idea of how we got where we are, and why I think that 5% is not so bad a starting point in the circumstances.

John Nephew, Councilmember



Friday, September 17, 2010

Variance Editorial

The Star Tribune has an interesting editorial on the topic of city variance authority and the recent supreme court decision on the topic.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Video: Citizens Forum, 9/11/2010

This past Saturday, I hosted the monthly Citizens Forum. The featured guest was Maplewood's attorney for Human Resources and employment matters, Chuck Bethel. As usual, there was also a lively back and forth on a variety of city issues, and a chance to debunk some of the rumors in circulation.

A couple of years ago a resident used to audio record the Forums (and give copies to the city, in case anyone else wanted to request them). More recently, Diana Longrie and friends have been showing up with video cameras (checked out from the cable access station, I presume), but I don't know what they do with whatever footage they shoot.

I thought it might be a good idea to both record the event and make it easily accessible to any and all. So I brought a home video camera and a tripod, set it up in the corner of the room, and recorded the event, a little over two hours long. Great cinematography it's not (though I did change the view a couple of times, just to focus in on Chuck Bethel's powerpoint and then back on the group), especially with the compression to reduce the file size for uploading, but if you couldn't make it or have never come to a Citizens Forum, you can see what you missed.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Maplewood Parks in the News

Improvements to Maplewood parks are the topic of an article in the Star Tribune this weekend.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Emergency Preparedness Fair

I had the honor this afternoon of standing in for Mayor Rossbach (who was out of town) at the "Ready or Not Emergency Preparedness Fair" hosted by Boy Scouts Troop 902 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Little Canada. Besides a beautiful ceremony to remember the heroic first responders of nine years ago, and recognition for the first responders who serve today in our police and fire departments and similar roles, the church parking lot was filled with assorted demonstrations related to public safety.

One such demonstration was from the Little Canada Fire Department, and I recorded some video to share.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

McCollum Mancini Mixer

Tonight I am one of the co-hosts for the McCollum Mancini Mixer, an annual fundraising event for Congresswoman Betty McCollum. You can find details on the McCollum campaign's Facebook page. I'm looking forward to the event, which is always a good opportunity to socialize with an assortment of elected officials, party officers, and DFL activists.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Citizens Forum NEXT Saturday, 9/11

Because of the Labor Day holiday, the monthly Citizens Forum will be held next weekend instead of htis morning. The time and location is also different: It will will be at the Ramsey County Library by the Mall (3025 Southlawn Drive), starting at 10:30 because another group has the room reserved before that.

I will be hosting this month's forum, and the featured staff member will be employment attorney Chuck Bethel, who will be discussing negotiations and staff training items. Since the city is this year negotiating contracts with all of its employee bargaining units, this is a great opportunity to learn about how the negotiating process works. As usual, we should also have some time for general Q&A about city issues.

I encourage everyone to stop by the Citizens Forum next Saturday, September 11th, and I hope we see some new faces in attendance!


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