Residential garbage rates to rise around $7 in Saint Paul next year

Residents of single-family to four-unit dwellings in Saint Paul will pay about $7 more a year for garbage service in 2021, according to a report presented to the City Council on October 21. The rates will be discussed during a public hearing on November 4.

The new rates for residential trash pickup would range from $59.23 to $101.23 per quarter. Customers using the smallest carts with pickup every two weeks would see a $6.51 annual increase. Customers using the largest carts and weekly service would pay an additional $7.11.

Chris Swanson of the Department of Public Works outlined the changes, which were recently negotiated with the consortium of trash haulers serving the city. The negotiations are based on a formula approved by the City Council. It includes the Consumer Price Index, fuel costs, the history of trash tonnage collected, and the fees charged at the Ramsey-Washington resource recovery facility in Newport.

Swanson said more trash has been disposed of over the past several months. It is likely as a result of more people staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council’s new audit committee plans to study customer service

The Saint Paul City Council agreed on October 21 to have its newly reformed Performance Audit Committee scrutinize the city’s customer service delivery for residents and businesses as its first undertaking. The council had such a committee previously. However, it stopped meeting almost 20 years ago. The audits are called for under the City Charter.

The original committee worked closely with City Council Research staff to look at such issues as the city’s extra half-percent sales tax and addressing problem properties. Budget cuts have eliminated most of the council research staff over the years.

Council members have spent several months working on the new committee and deciding what its focus should be. The first study was chosen from more than 100 ideas submitted through a survey.

The committee will be chaired by council members Rebecca Noecker and Jane Prince. It will also include council members Nelsie Yang, Dai Thao and president Amy Brendmoen, and three citizen representatives. City staff will play an advisory role.

The citizen members are Nou Fang, who has a background in real estate accounting, financial reporting, budget analysis and auditing; Ellen Brown, a retired public policy expert and consultant; and Eric Zidlicky, who has a background in business management and logistics, as a district council member and as a neighborhood advocate.

“I’m very excited that we chose to audit customer service this year,” Fang said. “With all the unrest and challenges the city is facing in 2020, it’s a great time to evaluate the call-in number and services we already have in place.”

“There’s a lot of great innovation in the traditional thinking around call centers,” said committee advisor Matt Larson, who leads the city’s Innovation Team. “There are new- generation approaches that leverage technology to reduce costs and increase engagement. This is a great topic to drive equity for everyone.”

Committee supports proposed Marshall Avenue housing project

A proposal to redevelop the Suds America property at 2045 Marshall Ave. into a four-story mixed-use building got a vote of support on October 19 from the Union Park District Council’s Committee on Land Use and
Economic Development.

Developer Paul Tucci and 2C Development want to tear down the laundromat and build a structure there with one story of commercial space, three stories of housing, and about 50 underground and surface parking stalls. The housing would be a mix of 55 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 530-1,095 square feet. Committee members pushed for some of the housing units to be at an affordable rent level.

Questions were asked about a tenant for the 2,500-square-foot commercial space on the first floor. Tucci has been in talks with a restaurant, but nothing has been finalized.

The plans were recently reviewed with the UPDC’s Transportation Committee. It is recommending that all parking access be from the building’s alley and that there be no curb cuts on Marshall. Suds America has two curb cuts and surface parking.

The property is zoned for Traditional Neighborhoods 2, which allows building heights of up to 45 feet without a conditional use permit. Tucci said more height is needed to make the project financially viable. The property was rezoned in 2018 as part of the West Marshall Avenue Zoning Study. The request for a conditional use permit and any variances if needed would go to the city’s Planning Commission.

Halloween
Gotta love it. Katie Jensen straightens the Queen of Hearts costume worn by her 6-year-old daughter, Alice, outside the Highland Park Community Center. The two were enjoying the activities put on by the Highland Business Association as part of Halloween in Highland on October 24. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Struggling businesses to receive $1.7M more assistance from city

The Saint Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) board, agreed on October 14 to move $1.71 million into this year’s budget for business assistance programs.

The funds were not supposed to be spent until 2021, but HRA director Nicolle Goodman said the need for assistance cannot wait. The money includes $1 million for businesses affected by the civil unrest in May following the death of George Floyd. Goodman said no resources have been identified by the state for such costs, unlike funds for the pandemic. She added that many businesses were displaced and some were underinsured.

The additional $710,000 would be used to recapitalize the HRA Business Assistance Program, which is used to recruit, retain and support business expansion citywide. Even before the pandemic, there had been an increased demand for city support of small and start-up businesses.

The action follows up work in April to create the Saint Paul Bridge Fund for Small Businesses in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has also received federal CARES Act funding, part of which can be used to help small businesses.

Twin Cities launch electric vehicle carsharing service, charging hubs

The Twin Cities Electric Vehicle Mobility Network has been awarded $6.7 million by the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) to help build 70 charging hubs in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, primarily in the public right-of-way. The hubs will be powered by renewable energy. They will be part of a new electric vehicle carsharing service operated by the Saint Paul-based nonprofit HourCar.

The network is being led by the city of Saint Paul in partnership with the city of Minneapolis, Xcel Energy, HourCar and East Metro Strong. The award will be administered by the American Lung Association. Xcel Energy will provide up to $4 million of electrical infrastructure.

In addition to electric vehicle charging stations, the DOE award includes support for public engagement and outreach. The project team has established partnerships with 10 local organizations to lead the public
engagement. 

The network plans to install some fast chargers that can refuel most electric vehicles in 30 minutes or less. It also plans to bring electric vehicle charging and two-way carsharing to 25 multifamily buildings around the Twin Cities.

The Lung Association has already helped establish a network of high-speed chargers along I-94. It also recently concluded a three-year, multistate project to raise awareness of electric vehicles in the Midwest.

The network is scheduled to launch in 2021 and be fully built out by mid-2022. For more information, visit stpaul.gov/ev.

News Briefs were compiled by Jane McClure and John Wadell.

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