Archive | November, 2016


A Living Nativity scheduled for Dec. 10 at Bethel Lutheran

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

The three-hour event takes a year of planning and up to 100 people to organize

(Photos courtesy of Bethel Lutheran Church from their 2015 event)
For the fourth year, the sights and sounds of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth will be re-enacted at a pantomime presented by Bethel Lutheran Church. A Living Nativity will be offered to the congregation and the public Dec. 10 between 6 and 8pm at the church, 670 W. Wheelock Pkwy.

lving-nativity-03Congregation members will take part in a skit that shows the birth of Jesus. There will also be a Bethlehem Marketplace offering visitors a glimpse of what trades might have been offered in Biblical times.

“We added the Marketplace last year,” said Anna Zimmerman, Director of Discipleship and Outreach at Bethel Lutheran. “We call it the Bethlehem Walk, and that will go on from 5:30-8pm. People will have a chance to experience what it was like in the marketplace.” A Living Nativity was created by Jordan Ray, who held Zimmerman’s position until last year, and the church’s pastor, David Seabaugh. When Zimmerman arrived for last year’s production, she brought along the idea of the Bethlehem Market. “I had seen it in other churches; I saw one in British Columbia,” she noted. “So I presented the idea to our church, and they said yes.”

lving-nativity-07Last year the church’s basement, which holds a large fellowship hall, was also opened to people attending. This gives them an opportunity to sip on coffee or cider or sample some of the 400 cookies baked by women in the congregation.

“That brought in about 100 more people last year,’ Zimmerman noted. “It offered a warm place for people to sit and have fellowship with each other.”

She said the weather has so far not been a problem, but there are always contingency plans. Zimmerman said the congregation brings blankets for extra warmth if needed, and there are bleachers so people do not have to sit or stand in snow. There is also a fire pit for extra heat.

Cravin’ Pies, Belasquez Family Coffee and Bundles of Love, a church charity to help mothers in need, have all participated. Last year there was also a translator, who translated children’s names and spelled them out in Biblical Greek.

Zimmerman said she has also gotten in touch with Concordia Academy, which presents a craft show in November, to have them contact all those participants who might want to offer their crafts during the Living Nativity.

living-nativity-01“Bob from Bob’s Cock-a-Doodle Zoo brings live animals for the production,” Zimmerman said. Sheep and goats, as well as other animals, take part in the pantomime. Shows are offered every 15 minutes. When they are over, children can come up and pet all the animals.

Zimmerman said that Seabaugh had written the scripts for the skit each year until this one, since he is leaving to serve a congregation in Illinois. “I reached out, and Jeff Burkart, a professor from Concordia, agreed to write the pantomime. He did a beautiful job,” she said.

The presentation calls for a show team, which includes actors for the skit as well as Roman soldiers who will be announcing the birth to those gathered in the fellowship hall. “Last year we focused on shepherds and angels,” Zimmerman explained. “This year we are focusing more on the Wise Men.”

lving-nativity-04She said that the play always is about the birth of Christ, but looked at from different perspectives.

The show team also includes those who assist with stage managing, costumes and audio/equipment.

“The actors can choose to speak or not speak,” Zimmerman added. “It is a pantomime skit purposely.

So if Little Sally Johnson is afraid to speak, she can just stand and be an angel. All ages participate and attend. It is definitely a family event.”

There is a media team, a hospitality team and a building team. “We take the stable apart and put it up each year,” Zimmerman said. “We will set it up in a few weeks while it is still warm out.”

lving-nativity-05She said the planning for the next year’s Living Nativity starts before the current year’s event is even over. “I started reaching out and brainstorming about two weeks ago.” Then, right after the event, “we look at what went right and what didn’t work. Then I revisit that the next year.”

Zimmerman said that although she coordinates the event, it is totally a church undertaking. She said it involves participation from 75 to 100 people.

But all the work is worth it, according to Zimmerman. “Christmas is so rushed, and so much emphasis is put on gifts and Santa Claus and shopping. But we like to remind the community the reason we celebrate Christmas is that Jesus Christ came and saved us from our sins. That’s why we share the story.”

She said the pantomime is by and for the congregation, but it is also an outreach to the wider community. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

“And we always make sure we tell people the story is not over when A Living Nativity ends. They are always welcome to join us for a candlelight worship service on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, too.”

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Melissa Cortes takes reins as HM Coalition Community Organizer

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Photo and story by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
melissa-cortesMelissa Cortes (photo right) stepped into her role as the community organizer and communications specialist for the Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) in September.

A political science graduate of Hamline University, she said, “My college experience opened my eyes to what community could be. Even before going to my first class, it was clear that students were expected and encouraged to be part of this neighborhood.”

Cortes was born in Los Angeles, CA where she was raised by her mother—a single mom. “My mom got involved with community action early,” she explained, “and it made a strong impression on me growing up. One memory I have is of my grandmother, who was confined to a wheelchair. Our family lived near a city park, but my grandmother couldn’t enjoy it because the park wasn’t handicapped accessible. My mom got on that, and the necessary changes were made. I have a photograph of my grandmother sitting in the park in her wheelchair, and it continues to inspire me.”

“I moved to St. Paul to attend Hamline University,” Cortes said, “and soon found myself volunteering with Hamline Midway artist Lori Greene on community art projects. I also got involved with Hamline Midway Elders, shoveling snow and raking leaves for senior citizens. I started making community connections.”

Cortes was strongly influenced by a class at Hamline University taught by former St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel called People, Power, and Change. She went on to become a campaign manager for City Councilman Russ Stark.

“The Hamline Midway neighborhood has tons of energy,” she said, “and it can move in different directions very quickly. We’re in the process of changing the way HMC works. We want to get away from being so office-based. We want to get out in the community more and meet people where they work, rather than being administrators sitting in an office. We want creativity to be a bigger part of our engagement process.”

In this time of transition at HMC, the staff is working hard to listen to the diverse voices of neighborhood residents and business owners. Toward that end, HMC is hosting its first annual 0pen

House and Annual Meeting from 6-8pm on Tues., Dec. 13, at Hamline University’s East Hall #106. The Open House will feature food, beverages, a report on HMC activities, and board elections. The public is invited to attend.

HMC is an action-oriented neighborhood organization that develops and supports initiatives in community building, transportation, economic vitality, sustainability, neighborhood identity and more. HMC also coordinates participation in public policy decision-making and provides high-quality information to the community on matters of public interest.

In addition, HMC can provide fiscal sponsorship for neighborhood organizations.

It is one of 17 district councils in the City of St. Paul.

Cortes wears a lot of hats, including providing technical support and communications expertise for HMC events. The next one coming up is the Second Annual Hamline Midway Pop-Up Show on Sat., Nov. 26. It will be held at Celtic Junction from 11am-4pm, with a focus on Twin Cities small businesses providing artisan gifts for the season. 40+ vendors and artists will sell their wares, creating an authentic “shop local” experience, and Santa Claus will make an early season appearance.

Organizers for the event are HMC board member Greg Anderson and his spouse Christine.

“Even though all of my family is still in CA,” Cortes concluded, “something about St. Paul keeps me here. HMC has had a meaningful impact on this community. I look forward to being part of the team that is deepening the relationship between HMC and its constituents.”

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Did you know drivers need to stop for pedestrians at every corner?

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Stop for Me working to educate drivers and pedestrians to prevent crashes and fatalities in St. Paul, state

Someone walking or biking is hit by a car every other day in St. Paul.

Someone is killed every other month.

This is despite a state law that says vehicles must stop for anyone at a crosswalk or intersection.
And, all of these crashes were preventable, according to St. Paul Police Department Sgt. Jeremy Ellison, who is the Toward Zero Death Grant Coordinator.

“This is an extremely important topic,” Ellison stated. “We need everyone to do their part in reducing the number of crashes. Drivers need to slow down and look for pedestrians at every intersection, whether it’s a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Pedestrians need to walk safely and never get in front of a moving vehicle.”

Stop for me. Every corner. Every time.
To improve safety for people who use St. Paul’s sidewalks and cross the streets, community members created the Stop For Me campaign.

a-driver-stops-while-a-district-10-volunteer-crosses-lexington2Photo right: Stop For Me educates drivers about Minnesota’s pedestrian safety laws and enforces the laws in partnership with local law enforcement. To get involved email jeremy.ellison@ci.stpaul.mn.us or call 651-266-5457. (Photo courtesy of District 10 Community Council)

It is organized by St. Paul’s 17 district councils, St. Paul Smart Trips and the St. Paul Police.

Stop for Me is working to:
• Bring attention to how often pedestrians take their life into their hands when they cross a street or parking lot.
• Raise awareness that state law requires drivers and cyclists to stop for pedestrians at every intersection, whether or not there is a painted crosswalk or stoplight.
• Educate everyone who uses the streets that they need to share the road, show more respect and patience, and recognize that the moment we step out the door, we are all pedestrians, according to Ellison.

He added, “We need to do something about the number of people who are being struck by vehicles. Too many of our friends, neighbors, and family, are needlessly being hurt, injured or killed by vehicles.”

highland-ped-event-headerPhoto left: Volunteers, St. Paul Police and St. Paul Smart Trips, are working to bring attention to how often pedestrians take their life into their hands when they cross a street or parking lot. They aim to raise awareness that state law requires drivers and cyclists to stop for pedestrians at every intersection, whether or not there is a painted crosswalk or stoplight. An event calendar is posted at www.stopforme.org. (Photo submitted)

“This campaign is important and making an impact because it brings together community volunteers, city staff, and the St. Paul Police Department to work towards a common goal: making St. Paul safer for pedestrians,” said Samantha Henningson, Legislative Aide to City Council President Russ Stark of Ward 4. “Having a city that’s safe (and pleasant!) for pedestrians increases our economic competitive advantage with other cities, improves public health, and puts more eyes on the street which is good for public safety.”

Stop For Me educates drivers about Minnesota’s pedestrian safety laws and enforces the laws in partnership with local law enforcement.

During set events, volunteers don high-visibility clothing to cross the street at designated intersections recognized as troublesome or otherwise unsafe for pedestrians. Law enforcement officers are present to issue citations to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

A dozen District 10 residents, including Council Member Amy Brendmoen, put their foot down for pedestrian safety in May as the Como Community Council held its first Stop for Me pedestrian safety event.

Residents gathered at the intersection of Lexington Pkwy. and E. Como Lake Dr., where park paths cross north of the Pavilion. This corner is the second-most-dangerous intersection for pedestrians in the neighborhood, according to a survey of community residents. During the event, volunteers repeatedly crossed the street to emphasize that state law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk—marked or unmarked—every corner, every turn, every time.

Other local events included Pierce Butler Rte. and Hamline in Nov. 2015; Snelling and Englewood in June; and Como/Front/Dale and Jessamine/Dale in Sept. During National Walk to School Day on Oct. 5, multiple events were held in the Como/Midway area, and there was another push at Hamline and University on Oct. 19.

some-of-the-volunteers-debrief-at-the-end-of-the-eventPhoto right: Volunteers debrief at the end of the May 19, 2016, pedestrian safety event at the intersection of Lexington Pkwy. and E. Como Lake Dr. This corner is the second-most-dangerous intersection for pedestrians in the neighborhood, according to a survey of community residents. During the event, volunteers repeatedly crossed the street to emphasize that state law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk—marked or unmarked—every corner, every turn, every time. (Photo courtesy of District 10 Community Council)

These events were in addition to other enforcement activities when officers ticketed offenders, but volunteers were not involved.

The city’s goal for 2016 was to do a total of 34 pedestrian safety events, two in each of the city’s 17 district councils. There were actually a total of 60 events between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016.
“SPPD and the city of St. Paul are committed to pedestrian and bike safety,” observed Ellison.
Get involved

The goal for 2017 is to continue to increase the number of events and impact on driving behavior in St. Paul. “We are also working closely with public works to provide feedback and make engineering changes when appropriate,” said Ellison. “Anyone interested in participating in the events should go through their district council representatives or if they prefer can contact me directly.” He can be reached at jeremy.ellison@ci.stpaul.mn.us or 651-266-5457.

An event calendar is posted at www.stopforme.org.

Why aren’t drivers stopping?
In the city of St. Paul, it is because they weren’t paying attention.

When asked, “Why didn’t you stop for the pedestrian?” the most common response during enforcement events is that they did not see the pedestrian.

“We interpret this to mean that they were not paying attention, whether they are distracted by a phone or perhaps daydreaming,” said Ellison. “We also know that drivers who drive slower (say 25 miles per hour) and actively look for pedestrians, do see them and do stop for them.”

A few drivers have said they were not aware of the law requiring them to stop at all marked and unmarked crosswalks.

“While the state crosswalk law is pretty old at this point, there hasn’t been enough education or enforcement historically,” observed Henningson. “We are starting to change this in St Paul, but drivers aren’t educated about the law, and they are not paying attention to pedestrians.”

The problem is everywhere, pointed out Ellison. “There is not a specific location in the city (or metro area for that matter) that this is not an issue,” he said.

One of the campaign struggles has centered on how to reach the broader community. “If you look at the crash data, you can see that only 38% of the drivers who hit pedestrians/bikers are from St. Paul. The majority live in another part of the metro area,” observed Ellison.

Stop for Me is working with partners at the county and state level to try to educate more broadly and call attention to the issue. “Our goal is to increase compliance with the Minnesota Crosswalk Law statewide,” said Ellison.

“We know that if we can change driving behavior, we will save lives. The police department alone can’t solve this problem. We know that by working closely with our partners in engineering, education, and the community, we will have the most impact.”

Are pedestrians always acting safely?
While the majority of pedestrians involved in crashes are acting appropriately, there are instances when they are illegally crossing, whether that be mid-block or against the light, according to Ellison.
Part of the Stop for Me campaign includes helping pedestrians be safe.

“We always tell them the number one rule is never to step in front of a moving car,” said Ellison. “We teach them how to put their foot into the crosswalk, so they satisfy the legal requirement of crossing in the crosswalk, while still being able and ready to step back if needed for safety.”

“The one thing that many of the citizen volunteers we train say,” noted Ellison, “is that they were not aware of how much distance they needed to give vehicles to safely slow down and stop. On a 30 mph road, vehicles are given 193 feet to see the pedestrian crossing, slow down and stop.”

In addition to the Stop for Me campaign, the city, and St. Paul Schools applied for and received a grant from Minnesota Department of Transportation to do rapid planning workshops for Safe Routes to Schools at three schools: Chelsea Heights, Upper Farnsworth, and Bruce Vento.

“From a city perspective, pedestrian and bike safety are priority issues but we have hundreds of miles of streets and thousands of intersections,” said Henningson. “It makes sense to start with schools because if you make an area safer for students, it will be safer for everyone else, too.”

Walking is healthy but leaves people vulnerable
“We often hear from people who are intentionally seeking out more walkable neighborhoods and from others who are concerned with a lack of pedestrian safety where they live and work. It’s not surprising,” stated Jessica Treat of Transit for Livable Communities, 2356 University Ave. W.

“Walking is an affordable, healthy, and sustainable way to get around—but it also means you’re vulnerable.”

“Pedestrian fatalities are up in Minnesota this year,” Treat added, “and fall is typically a particularly dangerous time. In our communities and as a region, we can and should do more to ensure people of all ages and abilities can stay safe while they are out and about on foot. How our streets are designed, how our traffic laws are enforced, and to what extent we’re investing in safe and accessible infrastructure all have major roles to play in making that happen.”

• Stop for crossing pedestrians at every intersection, even those without crosswalks or stoplights
• Before making a turn, look in all directions for pedestrians
• Leave lots of room between you and the pedestrian when stopping
• Scan the road and sides of the road ahead for pedestrians
• Look carefully behind your vehicle before backing up, especially for small children
• Watch for people in wheelchairs and motorized carts, who may be below eye level
• Put away the cell phones, food and make-up
• Stop for pedestrians, even when they are in the wrong or crossing mid-block
• Never pass or drive around a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians
• Obey speed limits and come to a complete stop at STOP signs

• Make eye contact with drivers and ensure they see you and will stop
• Clearly show your intentions to cross
• Watch for turning and passing vehicles
• Look across ALL lanes for moving vehicles before proceeding
• Stand clear of buses, hedges, parked cars or other obstacles before crossing
• Cross in a well-lit area at night
• Wear bright-colored clothing and reflective material
• Mount a safety flag on a wheelchair, motorized cart or stroller
• Cross streets at marked crosswalks or intersections; don’t cross-mid block
• Remove headphones and stay off cell phones while crossing
• Obey all traffic signals
• Don’t rely solely on traffic signals; look for vehicles before crossing
• Always walk on the sidewalk; if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic
• If intoxicated, don’t walk without assistance, a cab ride home may be a safer option

MN State
Statue 169.21 PEDESTRIAN.
§Subd. 1. Obey traffic-control signals. Pedestrians shall be subject to traffic-control signals at intersections as heretofore declared in this chapter, but at all other places pedestrians shall be accorded the privileges and shall be subject to the restrictions stated in this section and section 169.22.
§Subd. 2. Rights in the absence of signal.
(a) Where traffic-control signals are not in place or operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. This provision shall not apply under the conditions as otherwise provided in this subdivision.
(b) When any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.


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Minnesota writer Brent Olson to discuss the art of writing

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

brent-olson-01Brent Olson (photo right), a writer from Ortonville in western Minnesota, will speak at the Merriam Park Library on Mon., Dec. 5. This Friends of the St. Paul Public Library event will run from 7-9pm, and all are welcome.

The presentation is being organized by Mark Kile, Merriam Park Library’s branch manager. “I picked up the Sunday Star-Tribune newspaper last July, and was intrigued by an article about Olson,” Kile said. “The article focused on his latest enterprise, reviving a small town café in Clinton, MN— not far from where he lives in Big Stone County. I was bitten by the itch of curiosity!”

Kile continued, “I was planning a vacation to the western side of the state in a few weeks anyway. I tracked down one of Olson’s books through our system, ‘Lay of the Land: a View from the Prairie.’ I loved the book and was inspired by the short form of Olson’s essays. I’ve always wanted to write but had felt intimidated by the process. Suddenly I was writing vignettes in the form of letters. I was able to describe memories of my parents, my childhood growing up in Africa, all kinds of details that were important for me to remember.”

Kile made the pilgrimage to Olson’s Inadvertent Café not long after. To hear him describe it, the Café is a modest place: three round tables surrounded by folding chairs. Everything on the menu costs $5, with coffee thrown in for free. People start rolling is as soon as the doors open at 6:30am. Relatives and friends of Olson’s are thick, but there are others who come through town and stop at the café too.

“In a similar way,” Kile said, “I hope that the Merriam Pak Library can become a living room for this community—a place where people can gather to express their curiosity, their joy, a place where they can come to learn.”

What is it about Olson’s writing that would light such a fire under a perfectly reasonable librarian? Olson said, “My essays have always been about the stuff of life: for me that’s been farming, raising a bunch of kids, and trying to be a decent guy. If there’s a common thread that runs through my writing, it’s that I’ve learned to embrace my mistakes.”

“I’ve been a writer for more than 20 years,” Olson continued, “I don’t have any formal training as a writer; I just wanted to see if I could do it. My advantages growing up were that I was given two smart parents, and a house full of books. I went to Hamline University for a year until I ran out of money. I probably could have afforded to go to the U of M, but I couldn’t find anything in the course catalog that really interested me. I moved back to Ortonville and started farming instead. I come from a farming family.”

For most aspiring writers, the road to publication is paved with letters of rejection. Not so for Olson—at least not in the usual way. “In 1996,” he said, “I sold the first three articles I ever wrote to the Farm Journal, the second largest farm publication in the country at the time. I typed out the articles, put them in separate envelopes, and sent them to the east coast office of the Farm Journal.

One of the articles got lost in the mail, and eventually the editor asked me to re-submit it. I did so, ending my accompanying letter with a congenial, “Hope you don’t lose this one!” She wrote back immediately to say that my sense of humor was not appreciated and that my writing career with the Farm Journal was over.”

Olson went on to write for his local newspaper, The Northern Star, Living the Country Life and many other publications. He has filed stories from six continents and published five books. Olson’s fifth book, called “The Inadvertent Café: Lessons in Life, Business, and the Limited Value of Being a Do-Gooder” was published last month.

“I farmed full-time for 30 years,” he explained. “A few years ago, we subdivided our land into three parcels and rented it out. I imagined myself entering a peaceful chapter of life, maybe getting a dog and going for long walks in the country. But in 2012, I ended up opening a café in a neighboring town instead. I didn’t really mean to, so I called it the Inadvertent Café.”

Because the café only serves breakfast, there’s still plenty of time left for writing. Olson explained his writing practice, saying, “I’m an essayist, so I spend a lot of time thinking, and I think better when I’m doing something physical. When I go to type an essay, I’ve already thought it through. I’ve found the farming life, the cooking life, and the writing life are very compatible.”

Olson continued, “My wife of more than 40 years, Robin, and I live on the edge of a 120-acre wetland. My great grandparents homesteaded this land and built the house we live in. Now and then, I dream of building a writer’s shack on the property just far enough from the main house that I couldn’t connect to the internet. For me, it’s a big distraction.”

“I would encourage anyone with an interest to write,” Olson said, “because every person has at least one interesting story to tell. The best thing these days is that there’s no longer a geographic barrier. You don’t have to move to New York City to become a writer. You can live where you want to and still have a writer’s life.”

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Railroad Museum opens annual Night Trains

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Night Trains season is a special Holidays tradition at the Twin City Model Railroad Museum, 668 Transfer Rd., Suite 8. It is running every Saturday evening from 6-9pm through Feb. 25.

night-trainsNight Trains season comes to the dozens of model railroad layouts in a magical way; the lights are turned down, the buildings and street lights glow warmly, setting the scene for specially lighted models of vintage passenger trains. The make-believe town of Matlin is buried in a blizzard, and throughout the Museum the layouts are adorned with miniature Christmas lights and decorations.

This year Santa will be visiting the Museum on Sat., Dec. 17. He will have a sack of goodies for good girls and boys. Bring your camera and tell Santa about the train you want for Christmas. There’s no additional admission to see Santa!

For more information visit the Museum’s web site, www.tcmrm.org. Admission to this special show is $15 per person and free for children age four and under. Discounted group rates are also available for groups of four or more (max 10).

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Residential property values increases vary widely in St. Paul

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Differing values make effective property tax increases range between .4 to 13.5 percent


property-tax-imageThe owner of a median-value home in St. Paul could see a property tax increase of about $99 in 2017, under the levies adopted this fall by the St. Paul City Council, St. Paul Public Schools, Ramsey County Board and the county’s Regional Rail Authority. Impacts of the levy increases vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, the Joint Property Tax Advisory Committee was told recently.

Property tax statements will start landing in mailboxes in mid-November. State truth-in-taxation law required the three units of local government to review property tax impacts of their maximum levies in September

Ramsey County has proposed a 2.8 percent levy increase with a 3.5 percent increase for the regional Rail Authority. St. Paul Public Schools has a 5 percent increase while the city is at 7.9 percent. The local governments can cut their levies between now and years’ end but cannot increase them.

St. Paul’s median value home saw an increase in market value from $151,600 in 2016 to $161,200 in 2017, a 6.4 percent increase. Shifts and changes within the property tax system itself, as well as the regionwide fiscal disparities property tax sharing system, changes in homestead exclusion benefits and other shifts, would account for a $33 decrease. But levy and property tax increases would account for an increase of almost $130. Factor in the decreases and the net is $99.

Chris Samuel, property records and revenue manager for Ramsey County, said neighborhoods with lower-valued homes are seeing greater increases in market values and, as a result, in property taxes. Those neighborhoods saw some of the greatest property value decreases during the recent recession and have been slower to recover.

Values in Frogtown and other areas had “pretty much tanked” during and after the recession, said Ramsey County Commissioner and joint committee member Janice Rettman. While homeowners should be “thrilled” to see increases, Rettman said the higher increase could be a shock to lower-income homeowners.

She reminded officials to let homeowners facing higher value and property tax spikes that they should apply for targeted property tax refunds. County staff does mailings to encourage everyone eligible to apply for the refunds.

Still, the comparison for property taxes payable in 2016 to 2017 aren’t to change, even with the levy shift. The highest market value and property tax increase citywide is projected for Thomas-Dale or Frogtown, where the median home value has increased from $89,800 to $99,800 or 11.1 percent. The typical homeowner there paid $1,038 in property taxes this year and would see a $140 or 13.5 percent hike to $1,178 in 2017.

Similar increases are seen in East Side neighborhoods, including a 10.8 percent increase in values in Dayton’s Bluff. No neighborhoods showed decreases. The lowest median increase is expected on the West Side, at 3 percent.

Monitor area neighborhoods will see varying property tax increases. In Como, the median value home increases from $184,800 to $195,400, for a 5.7 percent increase in market value. Taxes would increase from $2,731 in 2016 to $2,826 in 2018, for a $95 or 3.5 percent increase.

In Hamline-Midway a 3.6 percent increase is projected, from $148,900 to $154,200. Property taxes would increase from $2,092 to $2,115, $23 or 1.1 percent.

Homeowners in the Merriam Park, Snelling-Hamline, and Lexington-Hamline neighborhoods, who have seen high increases in the past, would see the lowest median value increase. Values are estimated to increase just 3.3 percent for the median home, from $257,850 to $266,400. Property taxes would increase .4 percent or $18, from $4,032 to $4,050.

County officials caution that individual market values can hinge on a number of factors, including comparable home sales in an area or whether or not a property owner has made physical improvements to a property.

In general, property values are increasing more in the city of St. Paul than they are in the Ramsey County suburbs, said Samuel.

Members of the advisory committee said that no one takes the decision to raise levies and property taxes lightly. Looking at some of the increases to lower-income neighborhoods, Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said, “Some of that is hard to swallow.”

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CIB recommendation process changed by St. Paul City Council

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Hoping for a new bicycle route, a tot lot or park redesign? Your wish will likely have to wait, at least until 2020. How St. Paul funds its playgrounds, fire stations, recreation centers, and other public facilities is changing, as a result of City Council action earlier this fall.

The 45-year-old Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) won’t include a citywide competitive process in 2017, for 2018-2019 projects. Nor will it include a comprehensive task force review process. Instead, the focus will be on completing Frogtown’s Scheffer Recreation Center and West Midway’s Fire Station 20 in 2018-2019 and maintaining existing infrastructure and programs.

Capital maintenance is a growing need citywide. Council President Russ Stark, whose Fourth Ward includes several area neighborhoods, said he is noticing more city facilities in need of repair. One example he cites is Hamline-Midway’s Hancock Recreation Center, which has water damage.
“We see examples similar to that all over the city,” he said.

An upcoming inventory of all parks buildings and facilities should give an indication of the extent of what has to be repaired. The cost could easily reach into the millions of dollars. Add in deferred maintenance at libraries and other facilities, and the costs will only rise. The council wants to add $630,000 to the 2017 budget for capital maintenance, on top of more than $1 million already earmarked by Mayor Chris Coleman. But council members said that just scratches the surface.

Parks and libraries get a lot of use and sustain a lot of wear and tear. Changing needs is another issue, especially for libraries where technology and facility use have rapidly evolved. Rondo Community Outreach Library at Dale and University avenues is just ten years old. But it needs about $500,000 in renovations due to heavy patron use as well as changing space needs.

Some activists, booster clubs, and district councils had already started discussing which capital projects to submit in 2017. The change means that projects may have to wait. That is likely to include work on Dickerman Park at University and Fairview avenues, modernization of the Hamline-Midway Branch Library at 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave., and the long-delayed, multi-million dollar plan to extend Pierce Butler Rte. to I-35E.

The Pierce Butler extension, which has a cost of more than $11 million, has been discussed since the late 1980s. Ward One Council Member Dai Thao and Department of Public Works Director Kathy Lantry recently butted heads over a Public Works decision to move a smaller amount of funding from Pierce Butler to other projects.

What is described as a capital improvements project process “pause” is driven by various factors. One is the city’s growing need to maintain its existing facilities. Stark said the large cost of new facilities is another factor in reviewing the process. The 2016 capital budget is $40.463 million. 2017 has $54.288 million penciled in. Most is dedicated state and federal funding for specific projects or is earmarked for ongoing projects and programs.

The most flexible funding is about $11 million per year, which may cover one large project. Major requests sometimes have to go through multiple funding cycles. “That’s a hard way to do a project,” Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said.

A third issue is racial equity, to make sure everyone has a chance to be involved in the process, and to look at changes in community engagement.

A fourth concern is volunteer time. Not only do volunteers develop projects and shepherd them through the process, volunteers from all 17 district councils serve on the CIB Committee’s three citizen task forces. Some district councils struggle to find task force volunteers for several weeks of meetings.

CIB Committee members agree with the need for a process review and changes. But they do have concerns and frustrations with the process, especially the city administration’s penchant for inserting large projects or coming in with its own list of projects before there is any discussion. Another concern is that projects submitted by city departments have more resources to draw on than volunteers can muster.

CIB Committee member Joel Clemmer has served on all three CIB task forces. He said one frustration for task forces is that they spend much time reviewing and ranking projects, only to have large projects move ahead at the last minute. “It feels like a fait accompli sometimes.”

Another worry is that of not allowing any community-driven projects to be submitted in 2017. “My “concern would be that you’re taking away the community’s voice for two or three years,” said committee member Paul Raymond. “I think there’s going to be a backlash.”

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Prepare + Prosper seeks hundreds of volunteers

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

tax-return-clip-artPrepare + Prosper (P+P), 2610 University Ave. W., is looking for hundreds of volunteers for the upcoming tax season. P+P trains all volunteers who in turn put their skills to use throughout the Twin Cities by preparing taxes, working one-on-one with customers to discuss their individual financial goals, and providing customer support and service for taxpayers.

“You can make a tangible difference,” said Tracy Fischman, P+P executive director. “Volunteers play an important role in helping hardworking families with low-incomes turn tax time into a money moment. A tax refund can account for 30% or more of one’s annual income. When families receive this refund, they use it to pay down debt or pay bills, make important purchases, and save.”

In 2016, volunteers returned $24.7 million in refunds for 13,000 taxpayers. Additionally, volunteer financial advocates helped 1,200 customers save $1.9 million of their tax refunds.

Because of the significant refunds that low-income taxpayers receive, they are often targeted by paid preparers that charge high fees. At P+P’s free tax preparation sites, volunteers provide customers with access to 100% of their refunds and financial services at no cost.

Volunteer positions include customer service specialists, financial advocates, tax preparers, and tax reviewers.

Additionally, P+P is looking for volunteers who speak Spanish and Somali. Tax knowledge is not needed for all positions. All volunteers receive training and support, and those preparing and reviewing tax returns will become IRS-certified. P+P operates eight sites in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hopkins, and Bloomington.

For those interested in volunteering, P+P is holding orientations now through Dec. To sign up for an orientation, visit http://www.prepareandprosper.org or contact Kelly Quicksell, volunteer resources coordinator, at volunteer@prepareandprosper.org or by calling 651-262-2163.

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Como students dive into the middle of the school year

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

News from Como High School
Compiled by ERIC ERICSON, Social Studies Teacher

como-park-column-aof-financial-literacy-dayPhoto right: Como Park’s Academy of Finance (AOF) students met with Federal Reserve Bank employees who led breakout sessions as part of Financial Literacy Day on Oct. 25. (Photo submitted)

• Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon visited Como during the school-wide mock election held on Oct. 25. Over 900 Como students voted at the polling place which was stationed in the Como Auditorium. AP Government and Politics students served as election judges, administering a registration table, and distributing official ballots for the presidential election provided by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Several local media outlets covered the event at Como including KSTP, KARE11, the Pioneer Press and the StarTribune. Seniors Eli Freberg, Joe McCune-Zierath, Chong Xiong, Divine Uchegbu, Rachel Ruskin, Jackson Muehlbauer, Lizzy Larson, Hannah Rhee, Trenton Phillippi, Marie Wulff and Minna Stillwell Jardine were all interviewed or quoted in the news stories, expressing intelligent and thoughtful ideas about the democratic process and this election season.

• The Academy of Finance (AOF) continues to thrive at Como with 300 students in the magnet program across all four grades this academic year. A Financial Literacy Fair was held at the school on Oct. 25 with twenty volunteers from the Federal Reserve Bank leading breakout session with students. On Nov. 3, AOF juniors attended a field trip to the 3M campus as part of the BrandLab Marketing internship program.

Other recent AOF highlights included seniors Titi Yusef and William Toney representing Como’s AOF in a meeting with U.S. Senator Al Franken in St. Paul on Oct. 19 as part of an exploratory education visit the Senator conducted as part of his work on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Senate Committee. Several AOF juniors also attended the Carlson School of Management college visit and tour on Oct. 27.

• The Como Robotics Team participated in the Minnesota Robotics Invitational at Roseville Area High School on Oct. 15. Como’s BEASTBot did well in a challenging set of qualification matches and proved their adaptability to many competitors. In Robotics, alliances are formed with other teams, and the first place team from qualifying matches chose Como as an ally.

In the end, Como’s BEASTBot worked together with Irondale’s KnightKrawler team and Central’s MinuteBots to triumph as the tournament champions. Coaches Donna Norberg and Mike Fischer said the team was proud to collect a first-place tournament trophy, and are excited for the regular season to start next January.

• Students in Ms. MaryClare Bade’s Health classes participated in the National “Kindness in Chalk” Day on Oct. 31. The Kindness in Chalk activity is an anti-bully movement which was started a couple of years ago in Minnesota. The Health classes decorated the sidewalk in front of the school with positive messages reinforcing positivity, acceptance, respect and support for their peers.

• The Como Marine Corps JRTOC Ball will be held on Nov. 11 at the St. Paul Hotel. The event coincides with Veteran’s Day and celebrates the 241st birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. Como’s cadets will dress in their formal attire for the plated dinner in the Promenade Ballroom. Retired USMC Colonel Paul Adams will be the Guest of Honor.

• Como Park High School’s Advanced Placement (AP) Night is Tues., Nov. 22 from 6-7:30pm. AP Night is an opportunity for prospective students and their families to learn more about Como Park Senior High School’s AP program from staff, parents, and a student panel. Middle school students and families interested in learning more about Como’s award-winning AP college prep curriculum will be able to visit with current AP students and teachers and ask questions about the AP experience. The event will take place in the school library, and refreshments will be provided. No reservation is required, but any questions can be directed to Como’s AP Coordinator Molly McCurdy Yates at 651-744-5354.

• Como boys’ basketball coach John Robinson and colleague Donnell Gibson, assistant coach and Gibson Foundation President, are implementing the Saturday Breakfast Club and Basketball Clinic for their team. The coaches wanted to send a clear message stressing the importance of academics coming first. “We want to equip our young men with the tools necessary for them to succeed at the next level,” said Robinson. Gibson went on to say that, “the young men who show up consistently every Saturday are demonstrating their commitment to not only creating opportunities for themselves but for building a strong team.”

In addition to having a home cooked meal, compliments of Robinson, participants receive tutoring and academic advising from Como school counselor Michael Grant. The academic session is followed by a basketball skills clinic led by the Rip City basketball staff.

• The Como Park Booster Club is encouraging the community to support Como on “Give to the Max Day” on Nov. 17. Please give generously to help support extracurricular activities at Como Park High School. Student programs and clubs including music, athletics, robotics, student council, yearbook, math club, and more are aided by the Booster Club based on grant requests. If you are interested in finding more information about the Booster Club or desire to make a donation, please go to givemn.org/organization/comoparkboosterclub.

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Preventing food waste while feasting

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway

Food! Glorious food! November is traditionally a time of feasting and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. But it is also a time to highlight the downside: one in five children in Minnesota goes hungry every day. About 50 million Americans, or 1 in 6, live in food insecure households: they don’t know if they can afford to feed themselves on a daily basis.

Yet, one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption, about 1.3 billion metric tons, is not consumed: it is wasted. We waste enough to feed the world’s hungry. In the US, we waste about 40% of food produced for our consumption.

But how does this relate to climate change, and to our community’s resilience to climate change?
It wastes energy and increases greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, about 34 million tons, or 68 billion pounds, of food are wasted each year. Growing and transporting each ton of wasted food results is estimated to produce about 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, nearly 150 million tons per year. This waste uses about 300 million barrels of oil each year, or about 4% of the US oil use.

Reducing food waste reduces our carbon footprint.

It also wastes time and money. Think of the effort by farmers, manufacturers, transporters, grocery stores and restaurants to produce these tons of wasted food. And your effort: Americans throw away about 25% of groceries purchased, an annual cost of about $1300-$2275 for the average four-person American family.

So what can we do about it?
• Understand the “sell by” date on your food. “Sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates are suggested time frames for best quality; the food is still safe to eat after these dates. Often these dates are created by manufacturers, and not based on research or food safety guidelines.

• Don’t buy more food than you will likely use. The bigger jar may cost less per ounce, but only if you eat all the food in the jar. The two-for-one deal only works in your favor if you eat both of the products.

• Plan your meals, buying only foods you will use in your at-home meals. Limit impulse buys. Limit unplanned restaurant meals that result in the food at your home going uneaten.

• Consider buying “ugly” (bruised) fruits and vegetables if you will be chopping or stewing it: you can save money at no cost to taste or appearance.

• When you eat out, order ala carte or smaller portion options from the menu if you know you won’t eat it all. Request a doggie bag or bring your own container so you can bring leftovers home. Then, remember to eat those leftovers before they spoil!
Once you get the food home, there are procedures you can use to prevent food waste:

• Maintain proper refrigerator temperatures; 35-38F is recommended (bacteria growth rates accelerate around 40F, and things freeze at 32F). Use the high humidity drawer for foods sensitive to moisture loss and that give off ethylene (e.g., strawberries, lettuce).

• Invest in products to lengthen food shelf life. Examples include reusable, compostable “green bags” which allow ethylene and moisture emitted by fruits and vegetables to escape and FreshPaper sheets infused with herbs that inhibit the growth of bacteria. Inserting nitrogen to push oxygen out of a sealable food container is another option.

• Join the Clean Plate Club. Use smaller plates and smaller portions to decrease the amount served, and thus the uneaten food left on a plate. (Did you know that our plate size has increased more than a third since 1960?)

• After your meal, use leftovers you won’t be eating the next day to make your own “frozen dinner.” You will appreciate the convenience of the already prepared meal!

• Compost your food waste. No matter how efficient we are, there will always be some food waste. Use the Ramsey County Organic Recycling program.

Finally, consider advocating policies and practices that discourage food waste. Some innovative practices are:
• Suggest that grocers provide smaller packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, and replace two-for-one deals with mix-and-match options.
• Encourage restaurants to offer smaller portion options.
• Update federal tax incentives to encourage businesses to donate nutritious foods; often the cost of packaging and transporting excess foods costs a business more than just throwing it away.
• Suggest legislation to discourage waste: France has banned large grocers from throwing away or destroying unsold food, requiring they donate it to charities.

As you enjoy the bounty of the Thanksgiving holiday, consider the environmental costs of food waste. Do what you can to prevent it!

The Ready & Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resilience in our community.

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