The Saint Paul City Council voted 4-3 on December 1 to spend $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to replace aging radios for its police, fire and emergency management departments. The issue was contentious, with council members Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Jane Prince and Chris Tolbert voting for the expenditure, and Mitra Jalali, Nelsie Yang and Dai Thao voting against. Even council members who supported the expense questioned whether the radios should be replaced with federal money earmarked for pandemic relief. 

The city received $83 million through the American Rescue Plan last spring, with the same amount anticipated in 2022. The radios, which are 17 years old, predate the pandemic. Brendmoen asked why city departments had not saved up the money needed to replace the radios.

According to city budget and emergency management staff, the expenditure does qualify for the federal funds under a clause covering the provision of government services. 

Yang was unhappy with the request, saying it “came out of the blue.” She said the mayor and his administration should work more closely with the council when allocating the federal funds.

Prince said that while she supports the expense, she is worried that the city is “nickel-and-diming away” the federal funds. The radios are “something we have to budget for on an ongoing basis,” she said.

The $3.5 million is less than the $5.3 million originally requested for the replacement radios. A second federal grant is expected to make up the remainder of the cost.

— Jane McClure

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