The city of Saint Paul’s annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing revealed widespread unhappiness over property tax increases but many more calls for increased city spending. Three people testified before the City Council, but more than two dozen submitted testimony via email or phone.

The City Council could approve the 2022 city budget and levy as early as its meeting on December 8. The council approved a maximum 2022 levy of $176.6 million earlier this fall—a 6.9 percent increase over 2021— in support of a proposed city budget of $713 million. However, council members have said they would like to lower the levy amount.

Saint Paul’s levy is only a piece of the property tax picture for 2022. The Saint Paul Public Schools is eyeing a 3.15 percent increase in its tax levy, and Ramsey County is expected to increase its levy by 1.55 percent. Under these levies, owners of a median-value home in Saint Paul can expect to see an 11 percent increase in their property taxes next year. However, an individual’s property taxes are affected by a variety of other factors, including the market value of the property, the sale price of comparable properties in the neighborhood and any major physical improvements to the property.

Rick Kohout said the market value of his daughter’s West End home has increased from $116,000 to almost $200,000 in the five years she has owned it, leading to a painful increase in property taxes. “To middle-class Americans, this is like a brick to the head,” he said.

Rick Kohout, testifying before the City Council on behalf of his daughter Melissa, said the market value of her West End home has increased from $116,000 to almost $200,000 in the five years she has owned it, leading to a painful increase in her property taxes. “To middle-class Americans, this is like a brick to the head,” he said.

East Side resident Grant Ward is eyeing a 22.3 percent increase in his property tax bill in 2022. “My wages aren’t going up 22.3 percent,” he said. “I want to get out of St. Paul so bad. The liberal people are taxing us to death.”

Merriam Park resident Jerome Guettler wrote that he is eyeing an 11.1 percent tax hike in 2022. “The COVID crisis is not over financially,” he stated. “The hardship continues. It doesn’t make any sense to not raise the property tax one year (as the city did in 2021) and then double or triple it the next year. It would be fine if the City Council and the mayor decided to put this money into road repair, infrastructure and police, but it seems like it’s going towards catering to the progressive liberal base, which is allowing people to sit at home and get a paycheck. It’s just ridiculous.” 

Guettler said he and his wife are considering leaving the city.

Summit-University homeowner Gabriel Pillmann said city officials need to find a different way to support local government, instead of relying so heavily on property taxes. Pillmann is eyeing an 8 percent increase in his property taxes, which he said is “just too much.”

Payne-Phalen resident John Mazis said, “the proposed 25 percent increase in my property tax is really too much. Even if my house has appreciated in value as much as the county claims, which I doubt, I am not selling it, so no gain there. I haven’t had a pay raise in years, and now I’m faced with 6 percent inflation and a winter with high heating bills.”

Residents call for more city spending

Most of the written comments received by the City Council called for more city spending or spending in specific areas. Several emails were from the group ISAIAH calling for more attention to affordable housing. Others called for full funding of the city’s new Office of Neighborhood Safety, which provides alternative responses to some police calls. Yet others spoke in favor of Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed Low Income Homeowner Support Program, which would provide a $500 stipend each year to low-income homeowners who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

Seven emails asked the city to hire more staff to enforce labor standards. The city in recent years has adopted such worker support programs as a $15 minimum wage and earned sick and safe time. The emails asked the city to hire two full-time investigators in labor standards enforcement and to spend $200,000 to educate workers and employers about the labor standards.

“As a retired social researcher, I know that protecting working people from employers who steal their wages or fail to provide benefits is vital to the health of our economy and our community,” said Summit Hill resident Allan Malkis.

The City Council also conducted a survey of residents on the budget and levy in advance of the Truth-in-Taxation hearing. It drew more than 300 responses—almost double the response of the survey in 2020. According to Holly Huston, the council’s chief budget officer, the priorities that emerged from the survey included public safety, addressing gun violence and providing mental health supports.

The survey asked how the $166 million from the federal American Rescue Plan should be spent. Respondents cited neighborhood safety, housing and infrastructure as top needs. About half of the survey respondents called for the city to make its processes more efficient and cost-effective.

— Jane McClure

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