St. Paul next year will begin enforcing on-street downtown parking meters six evenings a week and charging higher rates during special events in hopes of freeing up street parking and persuading long-term parkers to use ramps and lots.
The new policy, which will raise an estimated $1.6 million annually, was announced Tuesday to a packed auditorium by Mayor Chris Coleman during his annual budget address at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center.
Coleman proposed an overall 2016 budget of $545.8 million, which includes a spending increase of $18.6 million over this year.
To pay for it, he recommended a property tax levy increase of 1.9 percent, which he said reflected the rate of inflation but remained below this year’s growth of nearly 5 percent in the city’s tax base.
To help cover the costs of street repairs and maintenance — a major theme in his 2014 address — the mayor asked for a 2.5 percent hike in the right-of-way assessment. The “Terrible 20” streets he cited last year will be rebuilt or repaired by 2017, he said.
The increased levy and various fee hikes would add $37 to the tax bill of a St. Paul house at the median value of $151,500. Final tax bills also depend on property value shifts and possible changes by the school district and Ramsey County, which last week proposed a 2.8 percent increase in its tax levy.
The city again this year faced a deficit of nearly 10 percent, much of it caused by inflation but made worse, Coleman said, by the state’s failure to restore cuts in local government aid. He called on state leaders to dedicate $67.5 million of the surplus to boost local aid.
The mayor said that the budget reflected “our shared values of educating our young people, of ensuring equity in the city, of keeping people safe and of building a city that can compete in a 21st century economy.”
Sprockets, an after-school program, and Right Track, a youth intern program, will get full funding, as will the Commercial Vitality Zone program to expand the tax base. Coleman said he will maintain police and firefighters at their current levels.
He also pledged several new investments: $3 million over three years to upgrade management of police records, more than $2 million for new fire stations, a full-time victim witness advocate for the city attorney’s criminal division, $200,000 for a universally accessible playground at Victoria Park and $250,000 toward the Rondo Commemorative Plaza and Garden.
The mayor said the budget fully funds library hours that were expanded this year. He also said the city and school district plan to roll out the Library Challenge Initiative next year to ensure that every child has a library card by 2018.
Coleman declared himself “bullish” about recent trends, which he said include the city’s highest population (300,000) in more than 40 years, rising property values throughout, an uptick in graduations and a drop in violent crime.
It’s that success, he said, that has contributed to on-street parking issues. Concern is especially acute downtown, where residents and business owners fear that attractions such as CHS Field and a proposed bike loop will make their homes and shops more difficult to visit.
With the backing of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Coleman plans to charge $1 an hour from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday for parking at downtown meters and establish “event rates” for on-street parking. On-street downtown parking currently is free after 5 p.m.
The “market-based approach” is based on a $90,000 study that found there are at least 7,000 unused parking spaces downtown even during the busiest weekday times. The study recommended hiking on-street rates to make them closer to off-street prices, in order to steer more cars into nearby ramps and lots.
The budget now goes to the City Council, which will decide on a ceiling for the property tax levy and hold hearings on the mayor’s plan before granting final approval by the end of the year.