The St. Paul City Council passed its 2021 budget on a split vote Wednesday, with two council members saying it didn't make deep enough cuts to the police department.
The council approved the approximately $633 million budget on a 5-2 vote with Council Members Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang voting no.
The 2021 budget is $3 million less than 2020 and includes cuts to departments across the city, including police. The city faced a nearly $20 million deficit heading into 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, but leaders avoided using emergency reserves, laying off employees or raising the property tax levy. The city ultimately had a smaller shortfall than expected, because of additional grant dollars and revenue performing better than anticipated.
The 2021 levy will be about $165 million, the same as in 2020.
But Jalali said the budget did not adequately respond to community demands to defund and reform police.
"After a year where Minnesota made national news and continues to for the police murder of George Floyd, and we spent weeks in a state of constant uprising and civil unrest as a rightful reaction to that injustice, this budget does very little to change the police funding status quo," Jalali said before the vote. "I am personally struggling to understand and I'm very frustrated that our council proposal would show so little movement on the most prominent national conversation about police funding we have had in recent memory."
About $104.7 million of the city's general fund will go to the police department in 2021, a decline of about $800,000 from the previous year, according to the city.
Jalali questioned the benefits of the police department's K-9 unit and community engagement division, which combined cost the city millions of dollars. She also referenced the Nov. 28 St. Paul Police shooting of an unarmed Black man.
"We need to be bold and we need to be courageous," Yang said. "We definitely let a lot of people down."
Other council members defended the budget, which they say protects taxpayers from steep increases and cuts the police budget while funding alternatives. Heading into the 2022 budget, a Community-First Public Safety Commission will suggest non-police responses for the lowest-priority 911 calls.
"In supporting this budget I am absolutely not supporting the status quo with regard to public safety," said Council Member Rebecca Noecker. "All of us have been really clear we know the murder of George Floyd requires a complete rethinking of how we insure safety in our community."
But Noecker said there needs to be time to thoughtfully consider changes "rather than indiscriminately hacking away at the police budget."
Council Member Jane Prince pointed out that the police budget includes $3.7 million in attrition.
"In other words, police have to resign or retire in 2021 until there's $3.7 million in savings before another police officer can be hired," Prince said. "We are effectively going to be seeing a cut of 30 to 40 officers in 2021 … I worry about this."
Mayor Melvin Carter released his budget proposal in August. The council negotiated some changes before Wednesday's vote, including restoring some funding for libraries, recreation centers and road maintenance.
Council President Amy Brendmoen said the impact on residents was top of mind throughout the budget process.
"The council's top priority was to keep the levy as low as possible to help our families and businesses who are struggling from COVID," she said.
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