The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed an almost $713 million budget for 2022, marking a 13% increase from the year before thanks to federal pandemic relief aid and a property tax levy hike.
At a virtual meeting, council members praised the plan, which they said balances the need to effectively and efficiently provide basic city services while also advancing progressive policies — with substantial spending in public safety and housing — that were not possible at the peak of the pandemic-fueled economic crisis.
"Last year felt very uncertain — it felt like we were hunkering down in uncertainty," Council President Amy Brendmoen said in an interview. "Today felt hopeful and like we're making investments in a city that we're proud of."
St. Paul will collect about $175.4 million in property taxes, a 6.17% increase from 2021. The levy is the total amount the city collects in property taxes, not what individual property owners pay.
Owners of a median-value home — about $228,700 — will owe an additional $162 to the city in property taxes and fees combined.
Like many local governments, St. Paul did not raise its levy last year to avoid burdening families facing financial struggles brought on by the pandemic. The council trimmed $1.2 million off what the mayor proposed for the 2022 levy, which some residents have said is hard to swallow as the pandemic endures.
St. Paul received $166 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which requires the city to obligate the dollars by the end of 2024 and spend them by the end of 2026. Mayor Melvin Carter has said he plans to use a majority of that funding to address three issues: public safety, housing, and jobs and career readiness.
As St. Paul leaders continue to hear conflicting calls about how to manage police resources, the city is launching an Office of Neighborhood Safety to oversee alternative public safety initiatives.
The council also allocated about $1 million to the Police Department beyond what Carter proposed to fund a second officer academy, which council members said they hope will keep staffing levels close to the department's sworn strength of 619 in 2022. Chief Todd Axtell made an urgent plea to the council in September, requesting more money to support a force that he says has been stretched thin by officer shortages and rising crime.
"We cannot act like it's right to allow our numbers of officers to fall so significantly at a time with such high needs," Council Member Jane Prince said.
That money for the second academy will be set aside in a contingency account, which the council and mayor will have to approve before the department can access it. Holly Huston, the council's chief budget officer, said it will be funded on a one-year trial basis by federal American Rescue Plan dollars.
"Like every other thing we try that's different, our council asks for report backs, we ask for managerial evidence and review. And I think that that is even more appropriate with a department that's already as well-resourced as [the St. Paul Police Department]," Council Member Mitra Jalali said.
The budget also restores additional staffing cuts made last year and funnels $32 million to three major construction projects — the Hamline Midway Library, the North End Community Center and Fire Station 7.
It does not include money to assist with the rollout of the rent control ordinance passed by voters in November.
"It would be playing with numbers at this point because there are so many variables out in terms of how we implement it," Carter said at a news conference after the budget passed.
Daniel Yang, a senior policy adviser for the mayor, told the council Wednesday that the administration is working to convene a group of stakeholders to "contribute recommendations for improving and enhancing the ordinance" in the coming weeks.