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Friday, March 31, 2023

St. Paul City Council approves unusual 2023 city budget

Crosswalks, bump-outs, and other community-driven pedestrian and bike improvements in St. Paul will get $480,000 from the city next year thanks to some creative budgeting.

The City Council of St. Paul also found money to pay a new pool of substitute employees for the understaffed public library system and to recruit an employee for a new historical reparations committee. Mayoral candidate and current council president Amy Brendmoen has announced that the new reparations commission’s first reading will take place next week.

“This budget voted today is not the budget the mayor outlined four months ago,” said Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who also leads the city’s library board. We listened to your feedback and adjusted accordingly.

St. Paul’s city council approved last-minute cuts and tweaks to Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2023 city budget on Wednesday, reducing the unusually high property tax levy by more than $1.1 million by drawing from larger than-expected sales tax revenues, among other sources. The hearing the day before attracted vocal homeowners concerned about their property taxes.

The 2023 tax levy is projected to be $201 million, an increase of 14.65 percent over the current year’s rate.

The mayor’s administration requested a 15.34% increase in the tax levy back in August; over half of this increase may be attributable to the loss of over $13,000,000 in property-specific roadway maintenance fees, which would be rolled into property taxes starting in 2019.

There will be a 5.4% rise from the current year’s budget to the overall municipal budget of $781.5 million in 2023 (including special funds and debt money). The average St. Paul homeowner (with a 2023 house value of $266,300) may expect to spend around $280 in additional taxes and fees (such as those for garbage, recycling, water, and other utilities) in 2024.

Carter issued a written statement after the unanimous council decision, saying, “We involve our community in crafting a budget to ensure it represents our shared values and helps us provide the essential municipal services our citizens have come to expect.” For the sake of our city’s future prosperity, I am eager to approve this budget.

The St. Paul Parks and Recreation and St. Paul Public Works partnership to improve litter pick-up and vegetation management throughout the city’s park system will cost an additional $470,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, while the Public Works department’s effort to secure the city’s street lights against copper thieves will cost an additional $356,000.

According to Brendmoen, “they’ve sort of done everything” to prevent more thefts. “Some plans are in the works to attempt solar lighting and other kinds of wiring.”

In addition, a swimming club in Highland Park contributed $10,000 to provide swimming lessons for low-income children, and the city will match that amount dollar for dollar, providing 500 free lessons.

After at least two weeks of talks with the mayor’s office, Council Member Jane Prince reported that the two sides were still unable to reach an agreement on a financing source and the hiring of four extra St. Paul Firefighters.

Williams Hill, a St. Paul Port Authority business complex on Phalen Boulevard, will soon be decertified as a tax increment financing district, saving the city roughly $1.2 million in tax levy costs.

The City council also shifted $1.3 million intended for sidewalk maintenance from the general budget, which is supported mostly by property taxes, to sales tax revenue. We expect next year’s sales tax to be much higher than this year’s,” Brendmoen remarked. A sidewalk, in our opinion, is a job that helps the economy.

The original budget for the new Agency of Neighborhood Safety was $500,000, but the council cut it down to $150,000 after learning that the office could use $4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act relief monies to support its programs and projects. There will still be room for two more employees in the office.

With the cancellation of the City Council Community Organizations Partnership program, some $105,000 has become available. This money was formerly used to provide grants for non-profits working on youth and anti-gun outreach. Brendmoen pointed out that from now on, the Office of Neighborhood Safety would be responsible for allocating its funding to anti-crime projects.

St. Paul’s city council, acting as the St. Paul Public Library Board, authorized $320,000 on Wednesday to establish a permanent fund to assist substitute employees at municipal libraries, which have been forced to operate with low staffing due to employee absences. Workers have reported tough interactions with customers who are disorderly, aggressive, or mentally ill; some of these customers are homeless or under the influence of illegal drugs.

Council members highlighted free public faxing as a crucial service for those looking for work in the medical area or submitting formal paperwork with the courts, and the library system would soon be adding two more cultural services experts. The yearly cost of providing fax services to the library system is over $6,000, with a patron income of around $3,000. Overworked library employees, according to library administrators, would be better suited to spending their time elsewhere.

A career center at a library is a “no-brainer,” as Brendmoen put it. They comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They provide access to computers.

Trash collection fees are expected to increase by 5-9% in 2019. There will be a 3.5 percent increase in both sanitary and storm sewer rates. The cost to have your recycling picked up will go up by $50, from $70 to $110.

As a consequence of a long-running legal fight between the city and several churches and organizations, the street maintenance fees, which typically range from $70 to $206, will be eliminated and rolled into property taxes.

Councilwoman Mitra Jalali said that the rise in this year’s tax was caused in part by the need to comply with a court ruling concerning roadway financing and maintenance. “That’s not something you see every day. It’s a constraint from outside which we must adapt.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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