The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday passed an $844 million budget for 2024, a taxing-and-spending plan with a focus on infrastructure, public safety and operational improvements.
St. Paul's property tax levy will be $208 million, roughly a quarter of the city's overall revenue and a 3.7% increase from this year.
The budget passed by a 6-1 vote, with Council Member Jane Prince dissenting. The adopted plan was largely the same as what Mayor Melvin Carter proposed in August, with a few minor tweaks and additions.
"From public safety to medical debt, this budget makes bold investments in our future while maintaining the discipline behind our city's perfect credit rating," Carter said in a statement Wednesday. "I appreciate the council passing it today."
The owner of a $267,400 median-value home will see a city property tax bill of $1,230 in 2024, down $50 from this year. With additional charges for water, waste, recycling and sewer services, that same homeowner will pay an estimated $2,257 in total city taxes and fees, a rise of $7 from this year.
The relatively modest changes could come as a relief to homeowners who saw their city property taxes skyrocket last year, when St. Paul increased its levy by 15% and home values shot up.
The outlook may be bleaker for commercial and industrial property owners, some of whom will face steeper tax increases in 2024. The assessed values for those properties grew at a faster pace than the residential sector this year, meaning they will take on a larger slice of St. Paul's tax pie.
"With a small levy increase, it appears that the public thinks that we have been cautious and careful," Prince said Wednesday, alluding to the fact that just three people spoke at the city's truth-in-taxation meeting held the prior evening. "But I feel like there were many other things we should have addressed."
Debate over medical debt forgiveness
Much of the council's debate centered around the mayor's proposal to use $1.1 million of the city's federal pandemic aid to partner with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that would use the money to acquire and cancel up to $110 million in medical debt for tens of thousands of St. Paul residents.
Council Member Nelsie Yang proposed the council eliminate the appropriation and carry forward the aid into next year, when more discussions about potential uses of the funds could take place. Her motion, which drew support from Prince and Council Member Rebecca Noecker, failed by a 4-3 vote.
"There are other needs that could be prioritized just as much as medical debt," Yang said, such as pay for frontline workers or assistance to Catholic Charities' Higher Ground Shelter.
Other appropriations added by the council include:
- $520,000 to hire more emergency responders in the fire department
- $500,000 to address wire theft and damaged street lights
- $500,000 to fund capital improvements to libraries
- $146,390 to pilot a 35-weekend free swimming session at Oxford Community Center
- $80,000 to hire an early learning consultant for the child-care program on St. Paul ballots in 2024
"I think people in this room heard us argue about a few of the small things in a very large budget," Council Member Chris Tolbert said. "Overall, this budget is a wonderful budget."
Streets and public safety
City budget officials said while final projections won't be finalized until later this month, their estimated revenue for 2024 increased since the summer — partly due to the 1% sales tax passed by voters last month for street and park maintenance.
The 2024 budget allocates $3.4 million for mill and overlay and skim paving work, and hires 5.5 full-time equivalent workers to help with snow plowing and street upkeep. In a letter last week, St. Paul Area Chamber President and CEO B Kyle urged the council to dedicate even more general fund sources to streets in the future, noting "there are still hundreds of miles of streets in need of repair and upgrade" that won't be covered by the sales tax.
The budget also includes millions of dollars in public safety aid from the state, which St. Paul has said it plans to use on a suite of initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence, as well as long-awaited $8.8 million bump in local government aid from the state.
Many other taxing jurisdictions affecting St. Paul property owners have yet to vote on their final budgets for next year. Ramsey County is slated to approve a levy Tuesday, and St. Paul Public Schools will take up its budget on Dec. 19.