John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, November 19, 2012

Trash Rates 2013: Unchanged in Maplewood

It's that time of year when we start getting notices of rate increases for the new year -- but if you live in Maplewood, one bill that won't be increasing is your trash.

It's funny to me that so many people who asked me to vote against organized trash collection insisted that, while the rates might start low, they would soon increase and wind up costing more than the previous system. Of course, none of these people had actually read the contract. Never mind that; many of them said that, whatever I thought the contract said (and regardless of my close involvement with the development of all its details), there must be something in there that would allow the hauler to screw over the customers once we were lured in by low introductory rates. Or, I was told, the hauler would just go ahead and raise rates regardless of the contract's terms, and the city would be helpless to stop them.

The contract does allow for annual price adjustments, but with very specific parameters.  Hauler proposals had to specify what portion of their price was tied to fuel; what portion was tied to disposal costs; and what portion was tied to the rest of the cost of service.  Each year, each of those elements will be adjusted according to objective measures: a diesel fuel index (for fuel costs), tipping fees at the Ramsey-Washington facility in Newport (disposal costs), and the consumer price index (all the rest).  I don't know if anyone believed me when I told them, but I explained that with this formula it was quite possible for trash rates not to increase, but actually to stay the same or fall in future years of the contract.

There has been inflation over the past year -- but diesel is actually cheaper, and apparently the tipping fees at Newport will actually be reduced in 2013.  Talking with some folks at city hall recently, I'm told that the net result is a wash -- trash rates for all of 2013 will be set at the same super-low rates that kicked off our new organized trash hauling system last month.  In other words:
  • $10.63 for 32 gallons, weekly pickup, including all taxes and fees
  • $11.93 for 65 gallons, weekly pickup, including all taxes and fees
  • $13.39 for 95 gallons, weekly pickup, including all taxes and fees
I'd be curious to know how many customers in open hauling cities are seeing their rates held flat throughout next year -- and for that matter, how many trash haulers are reducing or eliminating their fuel surcharges in light of lower diesel costs.

When we estimated $1.6 million in annual savings for Maplewood households, we were using the average rates I'd found across the city in 2011.  Considering the 2012 and 2013 rate increases that the organized collection contract has avoided, the savings are now even larger.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Congratulations, Rep. Fischer

The Secretary of State website has been swamped and slow to update, but adding together the tally of Washington County precincts (3,118 for Stout; 2,751 for Fischer) for House District 43A to the results from the Ramsey County website for the 12 Ramsey County precincts in the district (6,798 for Stout; 8,240 for Ficher), and it looks like we totals of:

Peter Fischer 10,991 votes, 52.6%
Stacey Stout 9,916 votes, 47.4%

...which would give our newly-drawn district a newly-elected representative, Peter Fischer!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Speaking of Liars (Rebecca Cave Gladstone Edition)

Rebecca Cave, who helped get Maplewood into such a mess back in 2006-2007 and thus inspired me to run for office, is running again for City Council in next week's special election.  As in the past, her campaign is built on half-truths and outright lies.  Besides having the backing of our old friends at the "Garbage Haulers for Citizen Choice" (who have a penchant for backing dishonest candidates), she has sent out a flyer of her own, loaded with misinformation.

For example, she harps on this "sale of Gladstone Park for housing."  She has a picture of the Gladstone Savanna Neighborhood Preserve sign, marked "Before"; and then a picture labeled "After Trees Clear Cut - 2012".

This postcard assumes most people don't know what's going on there, maybe even if they live nearby.  What's the construction in that neighborhood preserve you might have driven past on Frost?

Reality is the opposite of Cave's lie.  The Savanna isn't being torn up for housing; it's being cleaned up to be a neighborhood preserve that the neighbors can safely enjoy.  As Cave should know if she paid any attention when she was on the council, the Savanna is contaminated from its old days as an industrial site and rail yard.  Contaminants include lead, arsenic, and other poisons -- not the stuff you want kids (or anyone) playing in.  So, partly with the park funds that came from the development at the former site of the St Paul Tourist Cabins, the City of Maplewood is remediating the site -- which involves actually digging up and removing soil that is loaded with toxic waste.

Cave's cynicism -- taking an ongoing city project that is to enhance and preserve this parkland and actually make it safe for the neighborhood to use, and using it to back her lie that housing is being built there -- is breathtaking.  Or maybe she supports heavy metal poisoning for kids in the Gladstone neighborhood?

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Friday, November 02, 2012

Portrait of a Plutocrat: Michael Reger

Since Northern Oil & Gas (NYSE: NOG) is a publicly traded company, it gives us an opportunity to take a closer look at one of the folks funding the the lies from Minnesota's Future in Maplewood and all over Minnesota, using other peoples' money. You may be surprised to learn that the attacks might even be funded with your money!

NOG CEO Michael Reger of Wayzata is a rich guy. His 3.1 million shares of NOG alone amount to more than $47 million, and his compensation from NOG in 2011, according to the April 2012 proxy statement, was almost $10.8 million. His employment contract guarantees “minimum four percent annual increases” to his salary – a pretty sweet deal next to what most American workers have seen lately, especially considering that NOG has lost nearly half its value under Reger's guidance this past year. Reger personally donates tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates like Chip Cravaack, Denny Rehberg and Newt Gingrich.

Not content to spend only his own money backing right-wingers, Reger also uses NOG's corporate treasury as a piggy bank for his pet political causes. The NOG "Code of Business Conduct and Ethics" gives their CEO the power to give "funds or assets of the company" as political contributions; he needs only to "immediately advise" the board of directors of his decisions to spend shareholder money in this manner, not even get their approval or consent, let alone the shareholders'.

Rich though he is, Reger owns less than 5% of NOG. Almost ¾ of the company's shares are owned by mutual funds and institutions, like The Vanguard Group and T. Rowe Price. If you're like millions of Americans, you own shares in funds like these, perhaps in an IRA or 401k. NOG is part of the Russell 2000 index (see p. 16 of the list of index membership), and thus a required component of many small-cap index mutual funds and ETFs.

This means you may own a piece of that corporate treasury that Mr. Reger uses as a political piggy bank, essentially at his personal whim. Welcome to the post-Citizens United world -- where rich CEOs can not only spend their own money to influence elections, but can spend your money to influence races for their personal benefit.

Vote No: A Closing Argument Worth Sharing

My friend and co-worker Jess has written an impassioned and eloquent "closing argument" for why she will be voting NO on the anti-family "marriage amendment" next week.  It's worth reading and sharing.

Credit Where Due, Please


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