Mayor Chris Coleman called a halt Wednesday to the budget dramas that have plagued St. Paul through much of his time in office, proposing no increase in the city’s 2014 tax levy and launching a push to find new ways to save money.
In his annual budget address, delivered at the new U.S. headquarters of Matsuura Machinery in the West End, Coleman cited an additional $10 million in state aid as the main reason the city’s $101.2 million property tax levy can stay flat.
The mayor’s proposed 2014 budget — $510.9 million — is about half a percentage point higher than this year’s spending plan and contemplates no layoffs of city workers. Thirteen recent layoffs due to the state’s takeover of the city’s inspections function belong to the 2013 budget year.
“I call this year’s budget the ‘no drama budget,’ but what it lacks in excitement it makes up for with a new emphasis on innovation,” said Coleman, a DFLer who faces three challengers this fall in his bid for a third term as mayor.
His budget proposal now goes to the City Council, which will scrape it and shape it over a season of hearings before approving the finished document at the end of the year.
It’s only the second time in eight years that Coleman is seeking no increase in the tax levy. For much of his seven years in office, he and the City Council have raised the levy to cover budget shortfalls sparked by economic conditions and declining government aid.
St. Paul had been facing a budget gap next year of $11.5 million owing to inflation, Coleman said. That has been largely erased since state leaders for the first time in years increased state aid for local jurisdictions, including an additional $10.1 million for St. Paul.
But more state aid won’t ensure healthy budgets long term, the mayor said. He’s forming a “City Innovations” team, led by city Budget Director Scott Cordes, to overhaul inefficient practices without spending more and make small upfront investments that save money in the end. One example: a newly digitized payroll system that will save the city $360,000 next year.
Cost savings through innovation, Coleman said, is how Police Chief Tom Smith will be able to pay for five additional officers whom the city hopes to hire using federal funds at the outset.
Coleman also announced a new effort to improve St. Paul’s recycling participation numbers. He said the city will do more recycling education, launch a single-sort system next year that includes more plastics and wheel out larger carts in the future.