By JANE MCCLURE
Polar bears see needed repairs
The Como Zoo polar bears, like many of us, like to swim. But a substantial leak in the bears’ large pool has forced emergency repairs recently. The St. Paul City Council July 20 unanimously approved the allocation of $79,607 of available Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Contingency funds to the Parks and Recreation Department’s Capital Maintenance Program to repair the leak.
The leak was discovered in February 2016, forcing the pool to be shut down. The pool had to be enclosed with scaffolding, planks, cable, and poly to install new PVC piping and jets during cold season conditions. The work is done, but it required the reimbursement from the contingency fund.
The project was recommended for approval informally by the Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee. The committee lacked a quorum at its July meeting, but the members present did express support to cover the repair costs.
May Park planning continues
Planning for a redesigned May Park continues this summer. The small city park at Clayland and Chelton avenues has been the focus of planning sessions with neighbors and the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation.
City parks staff has developed plans to make the park more user-friendly for families and children. Neighborhood residents have expressed support for the ideas and are lobbying to retain the park’s small merry-go-round.
New swings, a new slide and play structure, new fence and other features have been discussed.
A public open house is set for 5:30-7pm, Thur., Aug. 25 at the park. In the case of rain, the meeting will move to the Newell Park building. Newell Park is at Fairview Ave. and Pierce Butler Rte.,.
The public open house will include a presentation of final plans and a project timeline.
Liquor store hours change eyed
A proposal to extend St. Paul’s off-sale liquor store hours from 8pm to 10pm weekdays is under consideration by Ward Three Council Member Chris Tolbert and city staff. The proposal is being studied by area district councils and is expected to be viewed by all 17 of the councils in the future.
Tolbert said he has no set timeline for gathering input, or any kind of study by the city. Liquor stores in St. Paul must currently close at 8pm Monday through Thursday and 10 pm Friday and Saturday. State law requires all liquor stores to be closed Sundays.
The St. Paul closing times are among the earliest in the state.
“We have heard concerns voiced over the years, and lately, the breweries have sought a change,” said Tolbert. “On its face it seems reasonable, as St. Paul seems to be an outlier in closing time. We thought we’d seek neighborhood feedback and see what people thought.”
The most complaints come from liquor stores near the city’s boundaries with Minneapolis and suburban communities, which are sometimes just blocks from competitors whose stores stay open later.
The change would require changing a city ordinance.
Breweries are interested in a change because they can only sell growlers during liquor store hours.
The proposal was sent to the city’s district councils for discussion.
Organized collection talks start
St. Paul is moving a step closer to organized garbage collection, as the City Council July 27 approved a 60-day negotiation period with its 14 licensed residential trash haulers. The negotiation period is to start Aug. 15. Kris Hageman, an environmental coordinator for the city’ Department of Public Works, said the goal is to have organized collection in place by mid-2018.
Organized collection of residential trash could take different forms, including a system of zones served by many haulers or dividing the city into larger areas.
Hageman said the council resolution starts discussions and will also lays out city priorities for establishing the system. She said the process would bring all 14 haulers together for a series of meetings to discuss issues including customer services, scheduling, collection of bulky items and routing. The group will meet twice a month.
“Most likely this will take longer than the 60 day period that is set in state statute,” said Hageman.
If the haulers cannot work with city staff to develop a proposal that addresses the City Council’s priorities in an organized trash collection system, the city would then set up an organized collections options committee to proceed with the establishment of the system.
Council President Russ Stark thanked city staff for their work on the proposal. “This is another milestone along the way. There’s obviously a lot of work to be done.”
A few garbage haulers were present for the council’s vote. All said they would participate in the upcoming negotiations, but expressed concerns about the outcome.
Metro Environmental Inc. owner Matt Pflugi, who is working with other haulers to form a cooperative, said he is disappointed that alternatives his group wanted to discuss were set aside. The group of smaller trash haulers had hoped to maintain existing routes as much as possible and retain each company’s market share. He said this could be done at no cost to the city.
“We needed more time and didn’t get it,” Pflugi said. He and other haulers will participate in the negotiations, but they are concerned that the city could ultimately be divided among the larger companies.
The process is only open to the current licensed residential haulers, which is a mix of family-owned as well as national companies. Companies not licensed in the city cannot enter the negotiations.
St. Paul currently has open trash collection. Property owners hire their own haulers. Organized collection would be for residential properties only. It could take many forms, with city service, private haulers or a hauler consortium providing service. St. Paul hasn’t had municipal collection for more than 30 years, and it’s not likely the city would start such a service again, in large part due to costs.
Colleges seek ESST exemption
As St. Paul’s proposed ordinance on earned sick and safe time (ESST) is readied for St. Paul City Council action, a group of St. Paul’s private colleges is seeking an exemption for part-time student workers.
A public hearing on an earned sick and safe leave requirement for St. Paul employers and employees is set for 5:30pm, Wed., Aug. 17 at City Hall. The council introduced the ordinance on Aug. 3 for a series of readings. The public hearing and adoption could happen as soon as Aug. 24.
The University of St. Thomas (UST), Macalester College, Hamline University, Concordia University and St. Catherine University are asking for the exemption for part-time student workers or work-study workers.
UST Vice President for Intergovernmental Relations Doug Hennes said the colleges and universities aren’t taking a position on the ordinance itself. Several business groups, including the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, are objecting to the ordinance.
The proposed regulations, if adopted, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017 for business with 24 or more workers. All St. Paul employers would have to follow the ESST regulations as of Jan. 1, 2018. The St. Paul proposal would be more restrictive than those adopted this spring in Minneapolis. Minneapolis’ policy exempts employers with six or fewer workers.
Minneapolis’ ordinance doesn’t exempt student workers.
Under the St. Paul proposal, employees begin accruing earned sick and safe time after 80 hours worked. After that, an employee would acquire the time at a rate of one hour earned for every 30 hours worked. Employees could begin using ESST 90 calendar days after employment starts. The maximum number of hours an employee can earn in each year (calendar, fiscal or whatever period the employer uses) is capped at 48 hours. The maximum number of hours an employee can bank is 80 hours. The sick time could be used by the employee or to care for an ill family member. Safe time is used to describe the need for time off in domestic violence situations.