St. Paul city council hopes to boost street repair spending
Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN), 2014-06-12
June 12 --The potholes pockmarking St. Paul's streets after a difficult winter have put the mayor and city council on a collision course.
Mayor Chris Coleman's plans to spend more than $2 million on emergency street repairs are a lot like "putting a Band-Aid on a broken hip," city council President Kathy Lantry said in a statement.
Six of the seven council members support a counter-proposal that would dedicate $22 million toward street repairs.
Their plan, unveiled Wednesday, would redirect $4.5 million annually toward street improvements and neighborhood projects from bond issues that have been paid off.
Lantry's statement was a rare display of pushback from the council at the start of what will likely be difficult city budget negotiations.
"Our arterial streets are in such rough shape that they need to be reconstructed," Lantry said in an interview.
"What (Coleman) has very clearly told us is the $4.5 million , which is an annual appropriation, will not be spent on roads."
Instead, the mayor hopes to fund long-simmering economic development projects, such as the renovation and reopening of the Palace Theatre on Wabasha Street as a concert hall.
"When we talk to the mayor, he said Palace Theatre , Macy's, Pedro Park -- it was all downtown," Lantry said.
The funds were recently freed up from 1996 bonds for the city's RiverCentre civic center. Those bonds have been paid in full, though other series related to the arena complex remain outstanding.
Of the $4.5 million , the six council members hope to dedicate $2 million per year toward $22 million in new bonds for street improvements, including complete street reconstructions.
"It would pay for the reconstruction of Third Street , or Cretin, or Hamline Avenue ," Lantry said. "These are main drags."
An additional $2.5 million annually could pay for neighborhood economic development projects at key intersections.
Lantry pointed to Pennsylvania and Rice streets in Frogtown as an intersection that could support new employers if the city offered incentives for job creation.
" St. Paul needs to make this investment in our arterial streets to stay economically competitive," Ward 5 council member Amy Brendmoen , who chairs the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority , said in the statement.
"We always have many more needs than resources, but we have decided this is going to be number one for us."
After the past winter turned into a pothole-riddled spring, Coleman announced plans to spend $2.5 million on repairing the city's most deteriorated streets.
"We all agree that there's a big need. That's why we've done as much as we have already," Coleman said Wednesday.
In addition, the mayor's 2015 budget address in August will lay out "a long term plan for rebuilding streets with a sustainable funding source," mayoral spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said in a statement.
She said the Public Works Department estimates it would cost $20 million annually for the next 10 years to rebuild arterial streets throughout the city.
"The council's plan is an interesting idea, but it doesn't address the short-term need and is only one-time money," she said.
The mayor's emergency repairs would siphon $500,000 from the city's right-of-way program, $1 million from street sweeping, $793,000 from an old bridge enhancement program, and $126,000 from a bicycle-pedestrian traffic safety program.
An additional $63,000 is leftover from a Safe Routes to Schools grant and $18,000 from a city stairway program.
Lantry said in her statement that the mayor's approach "takes money from needed city services" for one-time fixes that will last three to five years.
Council member Dan Bostrom said in an interview that he will meet with the mayor's office next week to discuss his concerns about road repair. He called the council's proposal "an opening salvo."
"We have this fear of all the money ending up downtown," Bostrom said. "It's been pretty clearly demonstrated that we have some serious road issues in the neighborhoods."
Council member Dave Thune , who represents downtown St. Paul , was the one holdout on the council.
"I don't think press releases are generally the way to establish the city budget," said Thune, referring to Lantry's statement. "We have a budget process. This isn't really the way to do it."
The mayor's budget proposal isn't due until August, he noted.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo .
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