Likening St. Paul's rutted roads to the lunar surface, Mayor Chris Coleman said Wednesday that he wants to launch a sweeping campaign to rebuild the city's crumbling arterial streets and proposed spending an additional $34 million next year to get the massive job underway.
Coleman announced the effort Wednesday in his annual budget address at the Schmidt Artist Lofts, a recently opened W. 7th Street subsidized project that remade an old brewery into affordable housing.
In his half-hour speech before a roomful of city and business leaders, the mayor said he also hopes to make St. Paul the first city in the state to offer paid parental leave to its employees — four paid weeks off for new mothers, two paid weeks off for fathers or another non-birth parent — at an estimated annual cost of $200,000.
The only other Minnesota city known to be considering such an idea is Brooklyn Park.
But for Coleman, the major challenge of the 2015 budget was finding a way to not just patch but reconstruct the city's most heavily used streets, many of them more than 50 years old. A couple of months ago he took issue with a council plan to bond for $22 million to rebuild arterials, instead finding $2.5 million to do patchwork this summer and promising a comprehensive approach to the problem in his budget address.
He delivered Wednesday, earmarking $54 million for street repairs and upgrades, including $34.4 million in new money. Of that sum, $30.7 million would be used to rebuild Jackson Street and other key stretches, complete the city's Grand Round bicycle route and finish the first phase of the downtown bike loop.
Coleman's proposed budget includes a fire medic program to channel more minority candidates into the fire department and three additional inspectors to slice the backlog of rental units needing fire inspections.
The budget now goes to the City Council, which has until the end of the year to tweak and reshape it before granting final approval.
The early reviews Wednesday were positive.
"He hit on a bunch of the priorities that the council has as well," including streets and public safety, Council President Kathy Lantry said.
"It sounds like he hit the nail on the head," said Council Member Dave Thune.
The proposed total operating budget of $515.2 million is a tad smaller than this year's, while the portion of the budget that makes up the general fund for basic city services would grow by 1.2 percent.
To help finance the spending plan, Coleman is proposing a 2.4 percent increase in next year's property tax levy, bringing it up to $103.6 million. That equates to a $16 tax hike on a St. Paul house at the median value of $145,000, not including a $29 tax increase due to property value shifts and possible changes by Ramsey County and the school district.
The county so far plans no tax levy increase for next year. Last year, an infusion of new state aid enabled Coleman and the council to keep the city's share of the levy flat.
St. Paul began the budget season with a $9.6 million deficit. To close it, the mayor wants $5.6 million in new revenues — including a $1.5 million bump in state aid next year and increased inspection fees tied to services rendered, higher taxes — and $4 million in spending cuts.
"I am very proud of the hard work we did to contain the future growth in spending to close [the] deficit," Coleman said. "And while I do not take raising the levy lightly, increasing it means that we will not have to cut police officers or firefighters, or reduce hours at libraries and rec centers."
To pay for the roadwork, the city would use $42.5 million in bonding secured with money the city saved by restructuring RiverCentre debt. Coleman also wants the city next year to divert $10 million from the city's $14.5 million residential street program toward rebuilding arterial streets, and boost street repaving with an additional $1.75 million.
St. Paul will contribute $3.4 million to Ramsey County's rebuilding of three county roads in the city — Randolph and Raymond Avenues and Ford Parkway.
"We'll not only address some of the worst streets in the city, but we'll also build a vibrant 21st-century city," the mayor said.