Digging in to high speed internet for Minnetrista

I met with a new internet service provider (ISP) that had recently contacted the city of Minnetrista about providing services here and learned a lot about how the city could remove obstacles preventing new service providers from entering the Minnetrista market.

Did you know that in order for a new service provider to mount an antennae on top of one of the city’s water towers it costs $40,000? That may not be a lot of money for Verizon or T-Mobile but for new providers entering the market it can be prohibitive.

In addition to leasing the space on the water tower there are engineering fees and application fees for each repeater and small cell tower location, which could be on an existing telephone pole or a new pole, provided by the ISP or possibly the city.

Assuming the city would need more than just existing telephone poles to accommodate the bandwidth required to reach all residents, the question of who builds out the infrastructure for the grid needs to be answered. Do we let companies put up their own or does the city plan out the grid and lease access to providers?

If the goal is to create a robust, competitive marketplace for high speed internet then the decisions we make must focus on encouraging competition and limiting barriers to the Minnetrista market. Some of the ways we can do that include:

  • Waive the city’s solicitation fees for new ISPs coming to the area so they can sign up new customers
  • Simplify the permitting process
  • Allow one application to cover multiple locations if technology is identical instead of an application for each repeater/ small cell tower location
  • Provide ease of access to the city’s right-of-way (ROW)
  • Waive engineering fees unless the city incurs a cost
  • Set infrastructure leasing costs for providers to reflect the actual costs incurred by the city to provide and manage that access.

I noticed our current mayor added the following to her reelection campaign “Roadmap” on her website yesterday: “Support a feasibility study of internet connectivity for all of Minnetrista.”  Internet connectivity is not the problem, Mayor Whalen. Everyone has connectivity. The problem is it is slow, unreliable, customer service is horrible and there is no competition. The mayor doesn’t get it.

We need an ordinance dealing with these small cell wireless issues so that providers see Minnetrista as a viable market opportunity and the city doesn’t see them as just another revenue stream.

Stay tuned for an announcement of a Zoom meeting with some broadband industry professionals from our area.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

 

Design flaw to cause Minnetrista north water treatment plant to shut down for 2.5 months

Minnetrista’s Public Works Superintendent Gary Peters explained to the city council last night that a “design error” in the construction of the city’s north water treatment plant will cause the plant to be taken offline while the Sunnyfield water tower is refurbished which is estimated to take approximately 2.5 months. “The north water treatment plant will be shut down during this process.”

north water treatment plant interiorMr. Peters further explained “It was a design error that did not get looked at when the plant was built, so unfortunately we will be without treated water on the north end. It’s either that or they’ll have no water. I think they’ll understand when they hear what the alternative is.”

We were informed the timing on this is to be within the next 2 weeks and the city will notify residents affected. Mr. Peters further commented referring to himself and contractors involved in the oversight of the plant: “We’re not water gurus….it would’ve been nice if someone had thought about it.”

I agree. It would’ve been nice. Perhaps this is a reason Minnetrista needs it’s own staff city engineer as I’ve proposed on numerous occasions.

Below is the audio file of the discussion from last night:

It was further clarified that the water will have chlorine added but will not go through the water plant filtering process. Residents will receive a notification explaining the timing and details on the matter soon.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Recyling & organics discussion – competition for recycle contract not supported at work session 5/4

The city of Minnetrista’s contract for recycling (not including organics) is due to increase 41% in a few months and then go up another 4% each year after that for the term of the 5 year contract. A suggestion to do an RFP (request for proposal) in order to encourage the city’s current contractor, Waste Management, to be competitive was met with no support.

The reasons given in opposition to competition were: 1) It would take staff time to issue an RFP; 2) Residents might be upset if they had to swap out containers with a new company or change pickup schedules; 3) A nearby city did an RFP and ended up keeping their original contractor (Question: how much more would they have paid if they hadn’t done the RFP?); and 4) The savings resulting from an RFP might not amount to much.

Minnetrista residents are going to see an increase in their recycling charges regardless of whether or not Minnetrista implements organics recycling because of pressure from organics recyclingHennepin County that will ultimately result in withholding 50% of state subsidies to cities (subsidies previously used to offset regular recycling costs) that don’t offer an official organics recycling program. It’s not enough to just let people decide if they want to recycle organics on their own without an “official” city program. Many haulers already offer organics recycling if people wish to request it. I’m aware of one that even offers free organics recycling in St. Boni. The organics recycling discussion will continue as we try to understand exactly what criteria must be met in order to hang on to state subsidies, or if we just let them go.

Some of the challenges for Minnetrista are the large number of rural households as well as households  in more densely populated developments within the city. The costs for haulers to service densely populated areas is a lower cost “per household” than to service the sparsely populated rural areas. It’s difficult to find other cities with which to compare apples-to-apples costs. Another factor affecting costs these days is also the reality that recycled goods don’t fetch what they used to on the market.

Competition is the best way to keep prices down, and if our current recycle contractor is competitive in the RFP process we may not have to switch companies, containers, schedules, etc. It would, however, require a few hours of staff time and a majority of council members’ support which it doesn’t seem to have. www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

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January 17, 2018

1/16/18 Council Meeting Agenda: Capital Improvement Project Discussion:
Despite the fact that 90% of Minnetrista’s roads are in good to excellent condition (road condition assessments provided by WSB Engineering in 2017) and we’ve almost doubled our budget in 2018 for road improvements, the city’s pavement management plan is calling for another 36% increase in 2019. Our road budget in this plan will go from $350K (in 2018) to $800K (in 2022) over 4 years. That’s a 128% increase over 4 years! I have a problem with that and I said so last night. If you’re a Minnetrista taxpayer and these numbers are approved by the council you can expect to see some hefty tax levy increases on your property.

We’ve been able to keep 90% of our roads in good to excellent condition in the past without resorting to these extraordinary increases. I know it costs money to maintain our roads but we need to make sure the costs we’re putting in our pavement management plan aren’t inflated and that’s impossible to do without competition in that marketplace. This is one of the primary reasons I’ve requested the council consider rebidding the city’s professional services agreement for engineering services. That contract hasn’t been rebid for over 13 years.

A couple of quick highlights from our work session Tuesday evening:

Agenda Item 1: Code Compliance/Enforcement Options.
Properties posing a nuisance to neighbors is a challenging area of the law for cities to deal with. Residents want resolution to whatever the nuisance is but often times the legal recourse to address it doesn’t exist, especially in rural areas which comprise a great deal of properties in Minnetrista. My general take in these matters is to encourage neighbors to resolve disputes themselves without involving the city unless the nuisance is an obvious environmental or safety hazard endangering the community at large.

The impetus to all of this was a complaint from neighbors about a rural property with a lot of older vehicles parked around it and the neighbors consider it an eyesore. We discussed the possibility of modifying zoning ordinances, pursuing a civil public nuisance case, and other possible solutions presented by our legal counsel but many carried a considerable cost to Minnetrista taxpayers. We settled on having our legal counsel draft a letter to the property owner detailing the actions the city requires.

Agenda Item 2: Halstead Road Update:
The city had received an email from a resident complaining about several aspects of the Halstead Road project, which, by the way, isn’t complete yet. Complaints centered around the mini-roundabout and aesthetics of the guard rails. After asking the City Administrator how many formal complaints the city has received I was told there was just one, although Council Member Thoele indicated she had spoken to others. Paul Hornby, our contract city engineer, explained the project design and reasons for the mini roundabout and guard rails. There didn’t appear to be consensus from the Council to modify the design which would require costly changes although Mayor Whalen suggested some plantings might help obscure the guard rails.