Last week both Minneapolis and St. Paul adopted 2020 budgets — both multimillion-dollar spending plans that fund infrastructure basics as well invest in areas such as affordable housing, youth programs and violence prevention. And, once again, both cities will require property tax increases to accomplish their goals.
Public safety spending generated more controversy than other issues, in part because some community members don't think adding officers is the answer to crime concerns. Leaders in both St. Paul and Minneapolis considered increasing the number of sworn cops on their respective forces but, disappointingly, neither adopted a plan that will add officers right away.
The St. Paul tax levy will increase by 5.85% next year to $166 million, the smallest percentage increase in several years. That revenue and other funding will bring the overall budget up to $636 million, nearly 4% higher than this year's $612 million. The budget passed on a 4-3 vote, with Council Members Kassim Busuri, Jane Prince and Dai Thao voting no.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter received City Council approval for his $3 million "Community First" program, which favors crime prevention efforts over hiring more officers. Authorized sworn officer staffing will be at 620 — five fewer than an earlier proposal from Carter.
The mayor's plan came after community meetings were held to discuss several violent months that brought the city's homicide total to a 25-year high.
Earlier this month, Carter told members of the Star Tribune Editorial Board that research shows prevention and community-based programs in other cities have produced better results than adding officers. Instead, St. Paul is investing public safety dollars in youth employment and outreach, streetscape improvements and incentives for landlords to rent to people with criminal histories. The budget does not fund the level of hiring and the purchase of gunshot detection technology that St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell had requested.
It's a stark contrast in approaches, and St. Paul residents have to hope Carter is making the right call. The city's population is growing and there are more guns on the streets. Axtell faces an unenviable challenge, and streetscape improvements are unlikely to provide immediate help.
In Minneapolis, City Council members adopted a $1.6 billion budget, with a property tax levy increase of 6.95%. That's the city's largest percentage tax hike in the past decade.
After initially proposing to hire 14 officers — a measure that drew swift opposition from some community groups — Mayor Jacob Frey reached a compromise with council members that funds hiring and training a larger-than-typical cadet class of 38. That move could increase the force by 14 by sometime in 2021, when those trainees become officers. As part of the deal, they moved additional money to the city's violence prevention programs, bringing the total to $2.7 million. Just over $200,000 of that total was shifted out of the Police Department budget.
Although the Editorial Board agrees that violence prevention, jobs and other youth programs are important, it should not be an either-or proposition. Policing is becoming more complex in both St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the demands on officers are growing. At the same time, residents are concerned about violent crime — especially in the two downtowns and near public transit hubs.
Business leaders have asked for a greater police presence because of valid concerns about the safety of their employees and customers. Meanwhile, statistics have shown that officer response times for certain types of reported crimes are slower than they should be.
Both Carter and Frey were elected on progressive agendas that focused on the troubling inequalities that exist in both cities. Yet the property tax increases in both St. Paul and Minneapolis will hit the hardest in lower-income neighborhoods. Leaders in some of those same neighborhoods have called for a greater police presence to address crime.
They'll have to wait — and hope that their elected representatives are spending their tax dollars wisely.