Media Coverage

The Villager: St. Paul reduces street work bills

The latest edition of The Villager leads with two issues that underscore St. Paul residents’ current frustrations with their elected representatives – mill & overlay, and organized trash collection, both of which are now the subject of lawsuits against St. Paul.

The mill & overlay article covers the city’s decision on June 19th to reduce mill & overlay rates and notes our upcoming appeal. It also quotes city real estate manager Bruce Engelbrekt, confirming the city’s intention to issue partial refunds to the approximately 100 property owners who had already paid the higher assessment.

The trash referendum saga has similar hallmarks. Most notably, the City’s willingness to ignore its own Charter provisions to shut down referenda, public hearings, and other measures designed to keep it accountable to its citizenry.

Read the Full Article: St. Paul reduces street work bills (.PDF)

Star Tribune: St. Paul cuts street repair bills, but some still question fairness

The Star Tribune has reported on the city’s decision to reduce our street assessments (June 22nd 2019, pp. B1-B2).

The city didn’t announce how it had arrived at the reduced rates at the council meeting on June 19th. According to the Star Trib, the cost of federally required ADA-compliant curbs was the primary driver for the lower charges.

It’s also clear that some members of the council had hoped to do more:

Both Noecker and Brendmoen said they’d prefer shifting mill and overlay costs citywide, but they couldn’t garner support on the council for raising the city’s tax levy even higher.

As the above quote confirms, Mill & Overlay assessments are fundamentally revenue raising measures (i.e. taxes). They would be bundled with property taxes but for political pressure to keep the number low so that the less scrupulous members of the council can claim that property taxes aren’t going up on their watch.

Unlike some of their colleagues, CM Noecker and CP Brendmoen would prefer to be honest with their constituents about the overall tax burden.

We agree wholeheartedly with this approach. Let’s end the creative accounting and rebranding, and just call a tax a tax. Maybe then we can have a real conversation about how much it costs to run our city with our elected representatives, and start to rebuild some trust.

Read the full article: St. Paul City Council cuts street repair bills, but some still question fairness

Pioneer Press: City Council lowers street assessments

The Pioneer Press has covered the City Council’s June 19th decision to reduce our street assessments:

The article gives some great insight into the City’s reasoning, quoting CM Prince, CP Brendmoen, and CM Noecker. It provides more insight into the work that the City put in behind the scenes to try to spread the burden of these street repairs more equitably while working within budgetary and other real-world constraints.

CM Noecker said:

“We are shifting more of the cost of the street work to the general fund, so overall the cost to each property owner is likely to go down, and we are all shouldering the cost through property taxes.”

CM Prince also commented:

“The bills were so huge, and the testimony was so dramatic, I asked the council to delay a vote at the time,” said Council Member Jane Prince. “We routinely tell people they don’t own the street in front of their house. But when we bill them for these large assessments, it’s inconsistent. It’s hard for us to have it both ways.”

While the City’s efforts to reduce the burden on individual property owners are welcome, CM Prince’s words lay bare the central moral and legal fallacy here: the City admits that these are fundamentally public roads… except when the time comes to pay for them.

The full article is available here:

Star Tribune: Massive Street Repair Bills Rile Homeowners

The Star Tribune has published an in-depth article on the front page of its print edition and website!

Jim Walsh’s excellent piece – In St. Paul, massive street repair bills rile homeowners – includes comment from Public Works and Councilmember Rebecca Noecker (Ward 2). She is generally sympathetic to our concerns:

Noecker said she would prefer putting less of the burden for arterial streets that carry citywide traffic on those streets’ property owners. “I think there should be some limit.”

At the time of writing, the piece has received over 230 comments from Star Tribune readers. The top comment (with 60+ likes) is from reader woodchucker, who notes that the streets are the “shared responsibility of the whole city”, reasoning:

They are not private roads or driveways, there are no restrictions on their use, these people do not live in a gated community.

The article comes on the day the remaining four Mill & Overlay projects are due to return to the City Council after they were laid over for 30 days pending a reconsideration of the policy.

Jim Walsh is on Twitter as @stribjwalsh.

The Villager: St. Paul Takes Closer Look at Assessments

We made the front page of this week’s issue of The Villager newspaper! In an article titled “St Paul takes closer look at assessments for street work”, Jane McClure reported on the City Council’s decision to postpone the assessments for the 4 projects which had not been voted through for 30 days to reconsider the policy.  As Jane points out:

A city policy change that became effective for street projects in 2018 greatly increased the amount that property owners are charged for that work. The city also is no longer notifying property owners of the cost in advance.

The article also notes how these “Major changes in how and what St Paul charges for mill and overlay” are a significant departure from the original ROW system from 2003:

When the right-of-way maintenance assessments were enacted in 2003, all St. Paul property owners shared in the costs…including nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations such as religious institutions, colleges, and hospitals.

Since the changes made as a result of 2016’s Minnesota Supreme Court decision, we’re a long way away from that original policy goal.

Steve Michael’s sharply-observed cartoon probably says it best:

Street Resurfacing Villager Cartoon

The Villager is distributed to homes throughout St. Paul. If you missed the April 24th – May7th edition or aren’t in their delivery area, it’s available free from various local news stands (map).

Pioneer Press: Mill & Overlay Bills Landing at Residents’ Doors

The Pioneer Press just covered our story.

The article is well worth reading. It includes a useful account of how we got here in the first place (this new policy only came about due to the First Baptist Church case which forced the City to change the previous ROW assessment system in 2017).

It also shines a spotlight on the problems created by the City’s decision to dispense with Public Hearings before the work was done and its failure to properly inform property owners of their rights even now.

As we’ve heard repeatedly from our neighbors, receiving a huge bill out of the blue for several thousand dollars has a very real impact, particularly on retirees, the disabled, students, and working families. We’re exceptionally grateful to Fred for drawing attention to this issue.

Fred Melo is the Pioneer Press’s Urban Life reporter, covering almost everything of note that goes on in St. Paul. He’s on Twitter as @FrederickMelo.