Saint Paul mayor submits a budget that holds line on property taxes
By Jane McClure
Responding to a drop in city revenue brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and this summer’s rioting, Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has proposed a city budget for 2021 that holds the line on property taxes but cuts a host of city services and reduces the city’s workforce by 3 percent.
The proposed 2021 budget is $626,993,514, down $9.4 million from 2020. It includes salaries and benefits for 2,920 full-time-equivalent (FTE) employees—a decrease of 93.26 from 2020.
Public safety spending would be reduced by $1.2 million with an $801,000 cut in the Police Department budget and a $431,000 cut in the Fire Department budget. The Fire Department would lose five positions, including two arson investigators and the coordinator of emergency medical services. The Police Department would cut 17 positions, including 10 sworn officers and seven school resource officers. Thirty-one police officer positions could go unfilled over time, and the Police Department fall training academy would be canceled.
The Saint Paul Public Library would eliminate 16.7 FTE positions and reduce its collections budget for a savings of $1.4 million.
The public may join the Saint Paul City Council’s budget discussion online at 6 p.m. Thursday, September 3.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department would reduce recreation center hours, cut hours at aquatics centers, close the Great Waters facility at Oxford Community Center during the summer, contract out concessions, reduce ice rink maintenance and eliminate 17.2 FTE positions, resulting in a total savings of $1.3 million. The department would maintain a focus on sports for children ages 8 and under, but the programming for older children will suffer.
The Public Works Department would cut $1.9 million from its budget, including the loss of 5.7 FTE positions and a reduction in the street mill and overlay program.
The Department of Safety and Inspections would see $1.1 million in cuts, including eight FTE positions.
Another $2.3 million would be cut from internal services, including almost 20 FTE positions in the offices that oversee city budget and finance, technology and human rights.
A few city functions would see an increase in spending, including $878,000 in the city’s Office of Technology and $270,000 for the Saint Paul Public Library for mobile wi-fi hot spots and to shift five cultural liaisons from grant-supported status to the general fund.
Parks and Recreation would get an additional $328,000 for its share of the Community First Public Safety program to cover the costs of five youth mental health support and intervention workers.
Preparing the 2021 budget “is one of the toughest tasks I’ve faced,” Carter said in his August 20 budget address. His senior management team has taken a voluntary 10 percent reduction in its salaries for the rest of this year, and many open positions are going unfilled.
The mayor cited the hardships Saint Paulites are facing during the pandemic. More than 130 city residents have died of COVID-19, he said, and more than 70,000 have filed for unemployment. While acknowledging his budget has “several pain points,” Carter said he intends to preserve essential city services.
The City Council began its 2021 budget deliberations on August 26. “It’ll be challenging, it’ll be painful,” said City Council president Amy Brendmoen. “There will be cuts nobody wants to make.”
The public may join the council’s budget discussion online at 6 p.m. Thursday, September 3. To register to speak or to find out how to view the budget meeting, visit tinyurl.com/yyvnsbc6.
The testimony that evening and in a series of public hearings to follow will inform the City Council as it adopts the city’s maximum levy for 2021 on September 16. After that date, the levy can be decreased but not increased.
The mayor’s proposed city levy for 2021 is $165,181,611, the same as in 2020. That figure represents 26 percent of the total city budget. Property tax revenue makes up 43.1 percent of the budget, the largest share. Local government aid from the state pays for 21.4 percent of the budget. Charges for services, franchise fees, licenses and permits and other sources of financing make up the rest.
The city began 2021 budget planning with a projected $19.6 million deficit, according to interim budget director Susan Earle. As much as $12.9 million of the deficit was from projected losses in city revenue. Property tax revenue is projected to decrease by $1.6 million as more people are unable to pay. Also anticipated is a $1.9 million reduction in franchise fees. Parking meter revenue could drop by $1 million. Decreases are also expected in paramedic revenue, business licenses, hotel and motel taxes and traffic fines.
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