In his 2013 budget proposal announced today, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wants to fill vacant positions in the city's police department and put money toward a new city park in Frogtown.
To help pay for his priorities, the mayor is calling for a small increase in the city's property tax levy.
Coleman delivered his sixth annual budget address at the Farmer's Market in Lowertown. He joked the setting carried some risk.
"It is a daring politician that allows baskets full of ripe tomatoes anywhere near a budget speech, so at least give me credit for that," Coleman said.
But the mayor made it through the speech unscathed.
The city's firefighters union had planned a protest, but in a deal reached last Friday, Coleman reversed a decision to take one of the city's fire engines out of service.
Coleman also delivered good news to the police department.
"Unlike last year, when [St. Paul Police] Chief Smith held seven positions vacant to stay within budget, we'll restore over a million dollars in funding to the department in 2013," Coleman said. "I've asked the chief to move expeditiously to fill all vacancies quickly so we will have as many officers on the street as we can."
Homeowners also have reason to be pleased. While the mayor wants to increase the city's property tax levy by 1.9 percent, most of that will fall on the city's commercial, industrial and rental properties. Values in those real estate sectors have held up well compared to residential property. In fact, most St. Paul homeowners will see smaller tax bills next year.
Coleman received his loudest response when he pledged about $1 million in city money to help buy a 12-acre parcel in Frogtown to turn into a park and urban garden. The pledge covers a little under half the cost of buying the old Wilder Foundation campus.
There's still private fundraising needed before the park becomes reality, but that didn't stop Tony Schmitz from cheering.
"There is less green space for Frogtown kids than for kids in any other part of the city," Schmitz said " For those kids and those families, this is really, really a big deal, and that's why the mayor's commitment today is so significant to us."
A proposal to add composting to the city's recycling plan did not get the mayor's commitment. Eureka Recycling, which picks up bottles, cans, cardboard and paper for St. Paul, pushed to add kitchen waste to the menu next year. It waged a public campaign, complete with lawn signs, to persuade Coleman to add a composting proposal to the budget. Despite the omission of their proposal, company representatives were quiet after the mayor's speech.
Even St. Paul City Councilmember Dave Thune, who had previously spoken in support of the composting proposal, wasn't in a combative mood today. His only criticism was of Coleman's proposal to close the downtown Central Library on Mondays.
"We've just now gotten so we've got 10,000 people living down here, which is as big as any other neighborhood in the city," Coleman said. "I don't think that's a good time to start cutting the hours of the Central Library. It's the Central Library."
The library aside, Thune said he likes the mayor's budget, but adds that the council will want to put some "finishing touches" on it.