Property tax levy increase is trimmed to 6.17%.

Following a host of last-minute additions and subtractions, the Saint Paul City Council has adopted a city budget for 2022 that includes more money for affordable housing, police training, the replacement of diseased ash trees and the restoration of staff numbers in the city’s libraries and recreation centers. With the changes, the City Council was able to trim the city’s property tax levy for 2022 to $175.37 million—a 6.17 percent increase over 2021 but less than the 6.92 percent increase proposed by Mayor Melvin Carter in August.

Dai Thao of Ward 1 and Rebecca Noecker of Ward 2 were among the City Council members who wanted to cut the tax levy further. However, Thao said he felt good about the council’s work on the budget and being able to maintain city services through the COVID-19 pandemic. Noecker said the 2022 budget meets “the bread and butter needs of the city. It was quite a process and a hard year.”

The city’s operating budget for 2022 is $324.2 million—or $1.4 million less than what Mayor Carter proposed in August. However, with special funds, debt service, grants and fund transfers, the overall city budget is $713 million, up from $633.2 million in 2021. The nearly $80 million increase in the overall budget is largely due to grants, in particular the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP). The city has receiving $166 million in ARP funds, all of which must be spent by 2026. The city has budgeted $37 million of ARP in 2022 to provide more affordable housing.

 The second police training academy is intended to help keep up with police retirements and resignations and restore sworn officer numbers to 620. The Police Department currently has about 550 officers. Police Chief Todd Axtell has said that at that level, his officers cannot keep up with all of the police calls they are getting.

Cut from the mayor’s proposed budget was $600,000 for a new city program that would have provided 1,000 low-income homeowners with an annual stipend of $500 to ease the burden of rising housing costs and increased property taxes. That program came under fire because it would only serve about a quarter of the low-income families eligible for the stipend and because of the perceived unfairness of increasing property taxes for all to lower the taxes for some. Instead, city officials will work with Ramsey County to promote existing property tax refund programs.

Also cut from the city budget was $400,000 to implement a new administrative citation process as an alternative to criminal sanctions for city ordinance violations. The idea had been rejected by the city’s Charter Commission.

Missing from the budget are any expenses for implementing and enforcing the rent control ordinance approved by Saint Paul voters in November. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect in May.

 

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Key additions to city budget

Among the key additions to the 2022 budget is a second police training academy in the year, funded with $1.035 million from ARP. Police academies were cut back during the pandemic. The second academy is intended to help keep up with police retirements and resignations and restore sworn officer numbers to 620. The Police Department currently has about 550 officers. Police Chief Todd Axtell has said that at that level, his officers cannot keep up with all of the police calls they are getting.

With the recent attrition in the Police Department, “we’ve had to dissolve our problem property unit and our traffic enforcement unit,” said Ward 7 City Council member Jane Prince. “Motorists who are speeding must know that we don’t have traffic enforcement because speeding is out of control.”

The city’s 2022 budget also restores to $820,000 funding for the Law Enforcement Career Pathways Academy. The academy has won praise for attracting diverse candidates for law enforcement work. Other public safety expenditures in the budget are $1.25 million to operate the new Office of Neighborhood Safety and $600,000 to employ social workers in tandem with emergency medical technicians to address mental health crises.

The 2022 budget does not include the required $1.8 million city match for a $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that would have allowed for the hiring of 30 additional police officers. To get the federal funding, the city’s match would be required in each of the next three years. However, the city has not made a final decision on whether or not accept the grant.

Replacing trees, restoring staff

The 2022 budget includes more than $3.6 million in Port Authority assistance to address a backlog of ash trees to be removed and replaced due to the spreading infestation of the emerald ash borer. The hope is that with the additional funds, city crews can catch up on its tree trimming work, which has fallen way behind.

The budget includes $4.7 million to restore city services and staff cut during the pandemic. Of that amount, $1.8 million is from the general fund and $2.9 million is from ARP. The money will increase the ranks of city employees from 705.03 to 780.77 full-time equivalent positions. Many of the restored positions are in parks and libraries.

The City Council also added $1.6 million for a neighborhood development fund to support small-business economic development, $250,000 for additional bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements, and $100,000 for graffiti abatement and plywood removal.

—Jane McClure

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