Against a backdrop of pandemic uncertainty and public concern about safety, policing, housing and equity, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul shared their 2022 budget proposals last week.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter recommended much-needed increased spending on policing and crime prevention.
Both mayors proposed single-digit property tax increases — 5.4% in Minneapolis and nearly 7% in St. Paul — but those hikes could be trimmed as constituents and council members weigh in on the plans.
During a year when both Frey and Carter are running for re-election, their budget proposals reflect pressing issues in both cities. Both wisely plan to restore some of what has been lost in public safety — including smart efforts to hire more officers.
They also rightly want to expand efforts to work with youth and to divert some nonemergency functions to civilian staff and anti-violence initiatives. In Minneapolis, that would come through the Office of Violence Prevention. And in St. Paul, Carter wants to create an Office of Neighborhood Safety.
The mayors also outlined their visions of how the cities should spend millions in federal assistance from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), understanding that it is a one-time infusion of funds.
Frey's $1.6 billion spending plan relies on a 5.45% property tax levy increase, federal ARP funds and cash on hand. The levy increase would amount to about $140 per year for an owner-occupied home valued at $297,000, $360 for an apartment building valued at just more than $1 million, and $186 for a commercial building valued at $529,000.
Frey's proposal includes nearly $192 million for the Minneapolis Police Department, which would nearly put the department back to its 2020 spending level after some council members opted to reduce the MPD budget and move some funds to preventive, community-based crime prevention. The mayor's plan includes adding five recruit and cadet classes to reach a goal of a department monthly average staffing level of at least 756 officers — though the city is authorized for 888.
To address the affordable housing crunch, Frey wants to spend more on preservation of existing housing and help with homeownership and renters' rights.
Carter proposed a $713 million budget, a nearly 13% increase from 2021. That boost would be covered in part by a property tax levy increase of 6.9%, which would translate into about $127 per year for a $229,000 median-value home.
Budget cuts in 2021 — including $3.7 million saved through attrition — left the city's Police Department (SPPD) short-staffed. But in 2022 Carter's plan would provide funding to allow the department to replace retired officers and include a permanent funding stream for the city's Law Enforcement Career Pathways Academy, which is aimed at further diversifying the force.
Carter proposes allocating a large portion of the city's $166 million in ARP funds to public safety, housing and job and career readiness.
The SPPD's authorized sworn officer strength is 620, but as of last week there were 569 on the payroll. Given the crime uptick in St. Paul, the final budget should include moving the staffing levels closer to the authorized number. And St. Paul should pay more attention to infrastructure issues such as road maintenance.
As St. Paul council members wrote in a budget memo last month, a more modest 2% to 4% tax increase would be preferable. Businesses and residents are still dealing with COVID-related financial challenges, and higher tax bills will put stress on those at lowest incomes.