Divided St. Paul City Council passes budget with property tax increase

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St. Paul City Council members in a meeting.
St. Paul City Council members have approved a 5.85 percent increase to the 2020 property tax levy on Wednesday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

St. Paul homeowners will soon find out whether they’ll pay more in property taxes and by how much. City Council members passed the city’s 2020 budget by one vote that includes a levy increase. The spending plan passed by a 4-3 vote Wednesday, after months of debate over the best way to address a spike in gun violence.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter proposed an initial version of the budget in August, and the seven City Council members charged with adding changes and passing that proposal debated until the final seconds before taking a vote.

Council members Jane Prince and Dai Thao, and departing Council member Kassim Busuri, who lost his recent election campaign, voted no on the 5.85 percent property tax levy increase, citing too big of a tax burden for low-income residents and not enough police department resources.

Ward 1 council member Thao had proposed adding money for public safety earlier in the day but it went nowhere.

Prince represents St. Paul’s east side. She wanted more officer positions for the police department, especially during the summer months when some crime rates tend to peak. She said the budget doesn’t account for attrition related to retirements and deployments.

“Who are we kidding about violence intervention? I will vote no on this budget because it does not cover the basics and it funds extras that my ward cannot afford,” Prince said.

Mayor Carter opposed adding officer positions, favoring what he called a “holistic” approach to public safety. He proposed $1.5 million in new public safety spending last month for community ambassadors and to improve existing public programs.

After the vote, Carter released a statement that reads in part, “Our City Council has met the urgency we’ve heard from residents over the past few months with a bold set of investments that will serve our families and businesses well.”

Ward 2 Council member Rebecca Noecker pointed out the 5.85 percent tax levy increase was the lowest raise since 2016. She also touted some of the successes of the budget, pointing out the more than $600 million total budget tackles road repairs, rec center programs and affordable housing.

”The bulk of our investments are staying the same, and if we only talk about what's changing it really gives a distorted view of what we’re investing in,” Noecker said. “The more than $40 million we spend each year on our roads, or the more than $170 million we spend on public safety, hasn’t been discussed very much because those are continued spending.”

The council also approved cutting $4 million from various departments to fill an expected $17 million budget gap next year.