Projects seek share of $1 million as part of the 2021 city budget

By Jane McClure

Sixty-five submissions from St. Paul individuals and neighborhood groups have made the first cut for the second phase of St. Paul’s redesigned Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process. The projects are vying for a share of $1 million that will be awarded as part of the 2021 city budget.

City staff will crunch the numbers and have cost estimates for the projects ready by the end of July. The CIB Committee will review the projects starting in August, make its rankings in September and present its recommendations to Mayor Melvin Carter and the City Council by September 30.

The CIB Committee recommendations have been pushed three months past the city-mandated June 30 deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic. The committee already has tentative recommendations for projects seeking federal Community Development Block Grants, Municipal-State Aid, street reconstruction bonds, and other state and federal grants. Its review of those projects is expected to be completed by the end of June.

The city launched its new streamlined CIB process last year to replace a system that had been in place for more than three decades. Under the new process, city departments submitted projects in 2019 for construction beginning this year, while all others submitted requests this year for funding in 2021. One impetus for the change was to give smaller projects a better chance to be funded.

“I think this has been a hard process and very isolating for a lot of us,” said committee chair Amy Huerta.

The mayor announced a focus on “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” for the 2020 submissions. Most of the nearly 100 proposals submitted before a March 4 deadline were for pedestrian and traffic safety. Only a handful asked for ShotSpotter technology, improved lighting and other public safety-related items.

 

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Extensive public outreach and workshops for CIB proposals were planned for this past spring, but they had to be shelved due to the coronavirus. Only two workshops for proposals were held in February.

CIB Committee members expressed mixed reactions to the changes. “I’m extremely uncomfortable with the way the process is moving forward or not moving forward,” said CIB Committee member Jack Fei.

He and other committee members noted the challenges of having to hold online meetings and of getting proposals in and selections made within a short time frame.

“I think this has been a hard process and very isolating for a lot of us,” said committee chair Amy Huerta.

Fei asked if there would be time for district councils to weigh in on the proposals. A typical CIB process includes district councils reviewing and ranking all projects in their neighborhoods, but many councils do not meet in August.

Committee member Mary Morse Marti said it is important to have other project review options, in that district councils are not always representative of their neighborhoods. “Councils tend to be exclusive, closed organizations of homeowners,” she said.

Other committee members agreed that additional ways for the public to weigh in on the projects should be sought.

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