Budget comes with 14.65% increase in city’s tax levy
With a flurry of last-minute cuts and additions, the Saint Paul City Council on December 7 adopted a $781.5 million city budget for 2023. That is up $40.2 million or 5.4 percent from the 2020 city budget. It includes a $201.06 million property tax levy—up $25.7 million or 14.65 percent from the tax levy in 2022.
Mayor Melvin Carter had proposed a budget with a 15.34 percent increase in the tax levy. However, the City Council was able to trim the levy by $1.21 million following a sometimes heated Truth-in-Taxation hearing on December 6 (see tax levy story here).
In its final weeks of budget discussions, the council made several shifts and changes. Due to an increase in city sales tax revenue, it not only trimmed the tax levy, but reduced overall spending by $1.6 million. The council was able to add about $330,000 in operational changes and make $1.3 million more in one-time capital investments.
ARP funds used to cover Office of Neighborhood Safety costs
Among the budget cuts was the elimination of the City Council’s Community Organizations Partnership Program (COPP), for a savings of $105,000. COPP was used for many years to fund various nonprofits and a few select programs. Those programs will now be overseen by the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety. The council also cut $350,000 in various expenditures by the Office of Neighborhood Safety. That office was recently allocated $4 million from federal American Rescue Plan funds to help cover its program costs.
Other budget additions
The council added $320,000 to the city budget to improve safety in Saint Paul’s public libraries, match private donations to make it possible for 500 low-income children to get free swimming lessons, and repurpose a vacant City Council staff position to support the city’s new African-American reparations commission and begin work on racial reparation efforts.
Additional capital improvements
The $1.3 million in additional capital spending includes $480,000 for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, $469,684 for landscaping and litter cleanup on city property, and $355,991 to address the growing problem of copper wire thefts from city streetlights. Various measures ranging from solar-powered streetlights to alarms on light poles will be tried as a deterrent to theft.
Library budget boosted
The City Council, acting as the city’s Library Board, eliminated the fees charged for faxing in public libraries. That is expected to cost the city an additional $6,000 per year. In recent years, the city had only collected about $3,000 in faxing fees from library patrons.
The council also established a permanent allocation of $320,000 per year to pay for substitute staff when library workers are out sick. Some of the city’s libraries have had to cut hours or close when not enough staff was available. The libraries will also be adding two new specialists to work with their increasingly diverse clientele.
Council members, city employee unions unhappy
Some council members expressed frustration with the budget process. Mayor Melvin Carter’s office did not share details of the proposed 2023 budget until the full document was released in August, they said. They also did not get all of the budget additions they wanted. Ward 7 City Council member Jane Prince noted that despite at least two weeks of negotiations with the mayor’s office, the two sides were unable to agree on a source of funding to add four Saint Paul firefighters.
City employee unions have also raised concerns about Carter’s budget, especially in the area of public safety and in the hiring of a part-time sheet metal worker. Union leaders have questioned whether a half-time employee is enough to keep up with the growing city backlog.
City Council looking to Legislature for help
City Council members conceded that the nearly 15 percent increase in the property tax levy will be tough for some homeowners to afford. Several council members noted the new DFL majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate and the $17.6 billion state surplus. Together, those developments could provide a rare chance to make long-awaited adjustments to the state’s Local Government Aid formula, they said.
“We all have struggled with the levy increase,” said Ward 3 council member Chris Tolbert. “More people are struggling now, and they need public services more than before.”
“We have a chance going into this legislative session to start to change that,” said Ward 4 council member Mitra Jalali.
— Jane McClure
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