Chris Welsch, Star Tribune
"Watching our spending is essential, but too much of [the] public debate is about whether to invest or cut. The truth is that we have to do both, and we have to reform the way we deliver services ...''
-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. RYBAK
"This budget reflects a dedication to children and safe streets ... the importance of private investment ... green space and our parks."
-St. Paul Mayor CHRIS COLEMAN
Editorial: Keeping twin towns on firm foundations
- August 17, 2012 - 5:36 PM
Striking remarkably similar themes, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul last week offered budget plans that would continue their records of fiscal responsibility, along with investments in crucial areas such as public safety, housing and economic development.
Their proposed 2013 budgets keep the Twin Cities moving forward during an era when many municipalities across the nation are struggling to recover from the recession.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed a 1.7 percent tax levy increase, while St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman recommended a 2 percent hike.
Under Rybak's plan, about 70 percent of Minneapolis homeowners would not have a property tax increase -- and some could see a decrease -- because commercial values have been stronger than residential values. Among the remaining 30 percent of homes, the increase would be 3 to 3.5 percent of the current tax bill.
In St. Paul, the proposed increase would mean an additional $12 per year on an average home valued at $134,000. The relatively modest hikes are good news for taxpayers -- some of whom are still struggling with lost or lower wages and underwater mortgages.
In separate meetings with the Star Tribune Editorial Board, both mayors wisely emphasized the importance of retaining and growing the middle class in their cities, and they have demonstrated that commitment by expanding housing options across income levels. And both plan to invest in the essential services provided by their police and fire departments.
Coleman proposed restoring some $1 million to the police department, which would add seven officers. Rybak wants to increase the policy budget by $2.5 million next year and add 10 officers. He noted that a "silver tsunami'' is coming among firefighters. The average age in the department is 46, and many firefighters will become eligible to retire in the next decade. The city must prepare in advance to replace them.
Such planning would be a luxury for many American cities. According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, a majority of the nation's 19,000 municipalities of all sizes are struggling financially because of rising costs, including pension payouts coupled with stagnant or falling property tax revenues and reduced funding from states.
In California, where state law limits the options that municipalities have to increase revenues through property taxes, four cities have filed for bankruptcy protection over the past four years.
But even through the recession, thousands of foreclosures and millions of dollars in cuts in state aid, the leaders of the Twin Cities have managed to invest in areas that matter to citizens. And they've made modest progress on livability factors such as better roads, more biking paths and improved housing options.
Those advances have not come without pain, however. City staffing and services have taken their share of hits in both cities in recent years. And money-saving reform must continue to be a priority in both city halls.
We've challenged both mayors on several decisions made over the years, including some police and fire staffing moves, responses to crime, and on previous tax-increase proposals.
However, generally during their tenures both Coleman and Rybak have provided forward-looking, responsible financial direction that has pushed the core cities to live within their means. That means that Minneapolis and St. Paul, more than many U.S. cities, have emerged from the recession with stable foundations on which to grow stronger in the years to come.
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