A St. Paul city hall budget discussion careened into barricades on Wednesday.

City Council members attending a budget hearing stopped short at public works director Rich Lallier's proposal that the department shift $50,000 from event barricade erection to an unspecified elsewhere in their budget.

Big events such as Cinco de Mayo and the former Taste of Minnesota already pay for their barriers, so those would remain in place, but National Night Out events would be another matter.

Council members pounced, questioning the estimated cost of $50,000 to install and remove barriers. Lallier said that's the price of staff time to put them up one day and take them down another.

Council President Kathy Lantry and Council Members Dan Bostrom, Pat Harris and Dave Thune expressed both skepticism about the cost as well as displeasure at the decision.

Thune said the lack of barricades would discourage residents from hosting block parties and ultimately lead to a less safe city.

Bostrom took it further, calling block-party barricades a wide-reaching livability issue. He asked what neighborhoods would do instead of using barricades: park a '47 Chevy at one end of the block and a new Cadillac at the other? "When we block it out with barricades, people see it's the city of St. Paul," Bostrom said. "People need to see the city's paying attention."

Thune and Harris agreed, saying block clubs build community.

Lantry added, "You need a barricade so people don't [drive] down the street. I've got to tell you the way to cut money is not by cutting barricades."

The council also debated whether public works should shorten the time between seal-coating of streets from 10 years to eight years at a cost of $125,000. The idea was that the shorter span between coatings would lengthen the life of the streets. Council members also expressed skepticism about that move.

On a positive note for both the city budget and car owners, Lallier said the city's plan to start replacing the snowplow fleet in 2012 will eventually save money because the new equipment will require less salt.

The general topic of the meeting was the public works budget and included the distribution of spreadsheets showing the city will collect $36 million in right-of-way fees from residents in 2012. There was no discussion about altering the proposed fees, which are going up again,

The fees originally began as a means to pay for snow-plowing without raising property taxes, but now also pay for street maintenance and tree trimming among other things. Unlike property taxes, which don't hit tax-exempt properties such as universities and churches, the fees are spread among all landowners. The fees have been controversial because they continue to rise, adding to residents' tax and fee bills.

No final budget decisions were made at the meeting. The council will adopt the final budget in December and can make changes to Mayor Chris Coleman's proposal up until the last minute.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson