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St. Paul may tap bigger tax hike to avert cuts in cops, rec center

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St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman
File photo of St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman delivering his 2016 budget proposal at the Wellstone Center on the city's west side on August 11, 2015.
Curtis Gilbert | MPR News File

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is asking city officials to raise a proposed property tax hike to 7 percent next year to help fill a $3 million budget hole.  

  The breakdown of talks over a potential special legislative session means the city isn't going to get an expected $3 million boost in state aid, and simply cutting that money could cost the city up to nine police officers, force one of the city's recreation centers to close and trim the city's racial equity initiatives, Coleman wrote Wednesday in a letter to the St. Paul City Council.

    Coleman proposed a 4 percent tax increase earlier this month, saying he still hoped lawmakers would pass a new tax bill.  

  The 7 percent increase in the overall tax burden is a worst-case scenario, but the city has to lay that out publicly as part of its property tax process next month, city finance director Todd Hurley told council members Wednesday. "The options are raise revenues or cut spending, or something in between."

    The potential hike would push St. Paul's tax hike past the 5.5 percent proposed for Minneapolis by Mayor Betsy Hodges, although her budget already assumed a loss in state aid.  

  St. Paul council members told the finance director they wanted to find alternatives to a tax hike, but that the initial cuts outlined in Wednesday's meeting wouldn't work.  

  "This is not acceptable," said council member Dai Thao. "We spend millions of dollars on the Palace Theater. Some of the folks targeted by these cuts would never experience the Palace theater," said Thao, saying the cuts wouldn't be fair for many St. Paul residents.