Robert Street in West St. Paul

Robert Street Debt: Where Do West St. Paul Ward 3 Candidates Stand?

We’ve got a four-way primary for West St. Paul’s ward 3 city council seat. The top two will advance to the general election in November. So it’s important to know where these candidates stand.

I’ve been asking the candidates questions, including asking about Pride flags on Robert Street, the River-to-River Greenway project, and I collected their responses to the West St. Paul sexual harassment.

This week I’m asking about debts from the Robert Street project:

The Robert Street project is now finished, but paying for it is not. Like any major project, bonds were issued and we’ll have an increased debt obligation on the city budget. How will you approach this challenge?

I sent that question to [most of] the candidates on July 18 and gave them July 25 as a deadline. Here are their responses:

Wendy Berry

(campaign site)

The only thing that satisfies a debt is money and we have to find that money somewhere. I’ve talked briefly with people around West St. Paul to try to learn more about this—business owners, local and former elected officials at different levels. I think it’s important to understand those basics before moving into a City Council seat.

I know Mayor Halverson and some of our councilmembers have been working diligently at the Capitol for the last few years to secure more funding towards our Robert Street obligation. That’s an action that won’t stop if I’m elected. I know we have support from Senator Klein and Representative Hansen on these efforts, because they know the importance of a strong infrastructure in West St. Paul.

We can’t completely rely on things like TIFs, because we’re both limited in options and the impact to our bottom line doesn’t come until several years later. A continued push to bring businesses in to West St. Paul would help sooner. We needed business that will attract people here to spend money they aren’t spending now. We need a completed greenway, again, to bring new people into West St. Paul. These things are improvements we can make happen and money we don’t have to spend to do it. That’s how you get rid of some debt.

Moving forward, we have to be smart about these things. We want to continue making West St. Paul attractive when it comes to businesses and residents, so there will be instances that we need to spend money to make money. How we go about doing that is vital.

It’s important for us to be able to rely on the experts we have on city staff to dig into all the risks a future project like this could have and make sure we’re able to accurately evaluate potential outcomes to avoid being this far out of budget. Improvements like the Robert Street project are important and will continue to help us grow into the future.

Lisa Eng-Sarne

(campaign site)

The payment of bonds for the Robert Street improvement is a hot-button issue for many West St. Paul residents and I’m glad we’re addressing it. The Robert Street improvements needed to be made as the roadway was in very poor condition. Maintenance/updating to much of our infrastructure will continue to need attention as much of it is in disrepair. I want to ensure voters that in no way is this issue insurmountable. Plan A would involve assisting city taxpayers with continued efforts to secure legislative funds for the street. South Robert Street is technically a state highway and our city contributes around $15 million a year in sales tax to the state. I am passionate that the state must step up with additional funds to help offset the city’s property tax burden.

The city council also recently kicked-off discussion about the possibility of a one-half-of-one-percent sales tax and I think this would be a huge relief when it comes to future planning. I think that this should serve as plan B. The citizens will ultimately get to decide if they’re comfortable with this (thankfully); however, the added step of legislative approval is also necessary. Often, getting legislative approval requires persistence, almost to the point of being annoying. I would happily take on the role of the annoying/persistent voice at the legislature for our community. I worked for Senator Jim Metzen at the capitol for six years, so I understand that the legislative process is one with nuances that many people find overwhelming and frustrating. I would be thrilled to represent West St. Paul in making this request. Having a discussion about approving a sales tax for West St. Paul might also force the Legislature to reconcile with the problem of Robert Street. It is important to note that the revenue from the sales tax cannot be used to pay off the bond, but would go toward future improvements that otherwise could not be funded, due to financial resources being tied up in paying off the bonds. This small sales tax would allow those resources to be freed up. Additionally, there will need to be clear community support at the capitol and I am confident that the group of activated and informed West St. Paul residents will be ready to make their voices heard!

David Meisinger

(no campaign site)

[Per a request from David Meisinger threatening to report me to the police for harassment if I ever contact him again, I did not ask Meisinger this question and therefore have no response to share.]

John Ramsay

(campaign site)

No response received.

Vote in the Primary

The primary is August 14. The West St. Paul city website has details on where and how to vote, including a handy ward map in case you’re wondering if you live in ward 3. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices.

There’s also a non-partisan ward 3 candidate forum on Monday, July 30.

(Full disclosure: I have donated to the campaign of Wendy Berry.)

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