City, county hold the line on property taxes, but school district eyes 5 percent increase

By Jane McClure

The 2021 property tax outlook is coming into sharper focus in Saint Paul. City and Ramsey County officials have set maximum levies with no increase over 2020. Meanwhile, the Saint Paul Public Schools is poised to adopt a maximum 5 percent increase in its levy following a September 22 review by the School Board.

Minnesota law requires local units of government to adopt a maximum property tax levy by September 30 of the previous year. After that date, the levies may decrease but they cannot increase.

The Saint Paul City Council approved a maximum 2021 levy of $165.2 million on September 21, the same levy as in 2020, to support a proposed city budget of $627 million, down $9.4 million from 2020. Two days later, the council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) board, approved a maximum HRA levy of $4.55 million for 2021, also the same as in 2020.

The City Council’s votes on the maximum levies were unanimous. “It was the right thing to do,” said Ward 2 council member Rebecca Noecker, given the economic hardship Saint Paul property owners are experiencing. The council has been hearing from constituents who cannot afford another property tax increase. However, Noecker also expects the council to make changes to Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2021 budget. She and other council members worry that the mayor’s proposed cuts to libraries, parks and recreation are too deep.

“I intend to do a lot of work in the weeks ahead to figure out how to support our families, specifically through our libraries and parks,” Noecker said. The coming year may be “the hardest budget year we’ll ever have,” she said.

 

Ward 7 City Council member Jane Prince  ultimately supported the zero levy increase, but said the mayor’s proposed budget “neglects to confront the truly difficult yet responsible choices we must make as a city if we have any hope of continuing to serve the most vulnerable in our community….
The cuts to parks and libraries are hurting the people who need them most, and that’s a huge problem during COVID and distance learning.”

Ward 7 council member Jane Prince called 2021 “the toughest budget discussion we’ve had in the years I’ve been paying attention,” including her service as a legislative aide in the council’s Ward 4 office. Prince floated the idea on social media of a 3 percent levy increase as a way to avoid some of the more painful budget cuts. She ultimately supported the zero levy increase, but said the mayor’s proposed budget “neglects to confront the truly difficult yet responsible choices we must make as a city if we have any hope of continuing to serve the most vulnerable in our community
during times of deep crisis.

“The cuts to parks and libraries are hurting the people who need them most, and that’s a huge problem during COVID and distance learning,” Prince said. “In times of economic hardship, the need for government services increases, and the needs this year are greater than they’ve ever been.”

The Ramsey County Board unanimously approved a general government levy and Regional Rail Authority levy for 2021 with little discussion on September 15. The county will levy a maximum of $326 million next year, as it did this year, to support a proposed 2021 budget of $747.5 million, a 0.9 percent increase over 2020. The county’s 2021 Regional Rail Authority levy was set at a maximum of $27.57 million. That is a $1.6 million or 6.2 percent increase over 2020.

The Saint Paul School Board is considering a proposed 2021 levy of $197 million, which represents a $9.4 million or
5 percent increase over 2020.

The school district’s operating levy is set to increase from almost $71.7 million in 2020 to almost $74.5 million in 2021. The levy for pensions, benefits and contractual obligations would increase by $5.5 million, from $37.8 million in 2020 to $43.4 million in 2021. The levy for district facilities shows a $657,000 increase, from $74.2 to $74.9 million. The levy for community services, which includes early childhood family education and community education, would increase from $3.8 to $4.2 million.

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