More than $5.1 million from the federal American Rescue Plan will be spent on a variety of pressing needs in Saint Paul, including increased public safety measures, criminal court prosecutions, and street and crosswalk restriping. The Saint Paul City Council on July 28 approved the expenditures, but not before an hour of debate and demands for more council involvement in future spending decisions. How to use another $162 million in federal funds is still to be decided.
Council members Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang tried to eliminate $975,000 for additional police patrols, but the motion failed on a 2-5 vote. They wanted more details as to how that money would be spent. Jalali raised concerns that the patrols would be used in a punitive matter toward people who are homeless.
The patrol funds would be spent in targeted areas, including near the Freedom House day shelter on Grand Avenue and West Seventh Street. Other targeted locales are near the Central light rail station at Fifth and Cedar streets, Mears Park in Lowertown, and Pedro Park at 10th and Robert streets.
Other council members objected to what they saw as a lack of council involvement and process with Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration in bringing recommended expenditures forward. Council member Jane Prince criticized Carter’s administration for a lack of transparency. Council member Amy Brendmoen said that while she agrees with the focus on immediate needs, she was concerned with what she saw as a piecemeal approach to spending.
Additional details are expected in Carter’s 2022 budget address, which will be delivered later this month.
Council members and Tincher agreed that they want to see continued efforts to address the root causes of crime and homelessness, and to not combine the two issues.
Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher said that city officials still have to make decisions on the rest of the city’s nearly $167 million allocation and that there will be plenty of time for the City Council’s input ahead.
The American Rescue Plan is a federal economic stimulus bill that was signed into law in March. It is providing $130.2 billion to local governments to cover a wide range of needs tied to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will be distributed in 2021-2022, and must be spent by the end of 2024.
The money being received by Saint Paul is the equivalent of one year of property taxes collected for city services. City officials are looking at interim needs, since any added programs or staffing beyond 2024 would mean tapping into future property taxes or state Local Government Aid.
The $975,000 for additional police patrols generated the most debate. Council members and Tincher agreed that they want to see continued efforts to address the root causes of crime and homelessness, and to not combine the two issues. Council president Amy Brendmoen said long-term solutions are needed. “Otherwise we’re just chasing (people) around from one part of town to another,” she said.
Five other areas are being targeted for the money. The largest allocation is $2.72 million to address a huge backlog in cases in the criminal division of the Saint Paul City Attorney’s Office. The money will be used to hire 5.5 full-time-equivalent attorney positions, a victim-witness coordinator and technical support.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, senior city financial analyst Laura Logsdon said Ramsey County District Court largely halted its criminal case calendar. Some proceedings later moved online. In-person cases started several months ago, but there is still a backlog of about 3,000 city criminal cases.
Court officials now expect to launch a stepped-up case calendar in September.
The smallest expenditure is $200,000 for the city’s Department of Public Works to hire two seasonal painters to restripe streets and crosswalks. A painter position was eliminated in this year’s budget cuts. Restoring turn lanes and crossing lanes are expected to help address a growing number of reckless driving complaints in the city.
Saint Paul will contract with the Downtown Alliance to provide $647,843 to support the downtown ambassadors program, which welcomes visitors and helps homeless people access services, and to address the growing problem of graffiti and trash.
Another $250,000 would be allocated to increased staff to meet legal and housing needs through the Saint Paul and Ramsey County Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.
Also allocated is $311,843 for additional services for the city’s homeless population. The money would be used by the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections to add a program coordinator, housing coordinator and inspector to focus on homeless
— Jane McClure
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