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St. Paul Mayor Coleman proposes 6.5 pct. levy hike

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Chris Coleman
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivers his 2012 budget proposal on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

St Paul mayor Chris Coleman delivered his budget address Monday, which calls for a property tax levy increase of 6.5 percent and $6.2 million in budget cuts.  Coleman blames the Minnesota Legislature for both. 

Coleman spoke at Amsterdam Bar and Hall, a new music club set to open in downtown St. Paul next month. The mayor told the standing-room-only crowd his levy hike is necessary to maintain critical services. 

"Simply reacting to cuts to Local Government Aid by taking an axe to city services would imperil public safety and our education initiatives, while making this place we proudly call home hard to recognize," he said. 

City officials say the proposed levy increase would mean propery owners with homes valued at the city's median price of $149,000 would pay about $44 more per year in taxes.  That means a house taxed at $524 for this year would pay $568 next year.

The mayor says he regrets raising the property tax levy, but says the Legislature gave him little choice.

"I am extremely mindful of the impacts of property taxes to our residents and our businesses," said Coleman. "But for that $15.6 million cut in LGA and the $12 million cut next year, I am confident that I would be standing before you today proposing a 0 percent increase in the levy. Unfortunately, that is not the case."

Despite this year's proposed cuts and levy hike, the mayor promised to preserve the police force at 610 officers and keep the 24 new officers who were sworn in last week. 

But his budget would cut several civilian jobs at the police department. He does not propose cuts in the number of firefighters, but would reduce the department's overtime hours.

Coleman's budget also includes a 50-hour reduction system wide at city libraries. The mayor did not explain further, but did indicate that libraries would not close.

Coleman touted his plans to upgrade the city's snowplow fleet to improve street cleaning during heavy snows. The city is also installing new parking meters in downtown St. Paul, and  upgrading its emergency communications and email system. 

Other cities around Minnesota may raise their property taxes as well, in response to the LGA cuts. But it's too soon to know how many will take that action, according to Rachel Walker with the League of Minnesota Cities.

"We have heard from a lot of cities that they are facing pretty significant costs for managing and maintainingg their infrastructure," said Walker. "They have the big pressure of LGA cuts on the revenue side, and they've got that big pressure of maintaining streets and water systems and those kinds of things on the cost side."

Cities are required to certify their preliminary levies by Sept. 15. 

So far, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has proposed a 2 percent levy increase for 2012. Burnsville has proposed an increase of just over 1 percent; Columbia Heights around 4 percent. 

But Walker says it's too early in the budget season to consider any levy hikes a done deal. 

"It may look very different in the fall, by the time the council works on the budget and determines what they are going to do," she said. 

The St. Paul City Council will hold a series of hearings on the budget before the deadline for approval in December.