St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter pledged Thursday to boost city investments in a slew of efforts, from building more affordable housing to supporting immigrant residents.
“I am excited and honored and a little bit nervous to share with you my proposed city budget for 2019,” Carter said in his first budget address, delivered at Washington Technology Magnet School. “We approached this budget the same way my administration approaches everything — by asking for your help.”
The mayor proposed a $606 million city budget and an 11.5 percent property tax levy increase. The $563 million 2018 budget included a 24 percent property tax levy increase.
The proposed levy increase means that the city would collect about $16 million more a year in property taxes. It “would amount to an increase of $76 per year — or about $6.33 per month — for a median-value home,” Carter said.
The bulk of city spending would continue to go toward public safety.
Carter is proposing investing $1 million in the fire department to expand nonemergency services, plan for renovation of Fire Station 7 and develop a study to provide data on cancer in firefighters.
In the Police Department — where he has publicly opposed Chief Todd Axtell’s request to add 50 new officers — Carter wants a $500,000 ongoing investment to support the Mental Health Unit co-responder program and $112,000 to expand investigative capacity, including a new dedicated commander for the sex-crimes unit.
It’s likely some of Carter’s priorities won’t make it into the final 2019 budget. The City Council will meet for its first budget committee meeting of the year on Wednesday, and will approve a final budget at the end of the year.
As he did with his State of the City address, Carter made the budget process an opportunity for St. Paul residents to share their ideas for the city.
Residents gathered at coffee shops, restaurants and taprooms last month to learn how the city budget works and talk about where they think money should go.
‘A values document’
Since taking office in January, Carter has spent a lot of time publicly reiterating his campaign pledge to make St. Paul a city that serves every resident. In remarks to the dozens of people who attended the Our City, Our Budget events in July, he applied that message to the 2019 budget.
“We have to think of the budget not as a numbers document, but as a values document,” he told a group of about 35 people who attended an event at Como Lakeside Pavilion on July 26. “What do we as a city, what do we as a community, value?”
According to the mayor’s office, event attendees ranked affordable housing, expanding free programming at recreation centers and supporting small businesses as their top three priorities — all of which Carter included in his budget proposal.
The mayor is proposing a $10 million housing trust fund, $1 million for after-school programming and recreation centers and more than $2.7 million for programs that support small businesses. He also wants to launch an Office of Financial Empowerment, which will provide financial counseling and work on the city’s college savings account program.
And this year, Carter wants to launch a $100,000 Immigrant Legal Defense Fund, with a new a full-time immigration-services attorney to follow in 2019.
“St. Paul cannot and will not be a city that does nothing while our neighbors are targeted,” he said. “This work is critical and urgent.”