A handful of St. Paul residents condemned the city's proposed levy increase at the City Council's annual truth-in-taxation hearing Wednesday, questioning the large hikes some residents are seeing in their projected property tax bills.

Mayor Melvin Carter proposed a $713 million 2022 budget that would be partly financed by $176.6 million in property taxes, a 6.9% increase from last year's levy. The levy is the total amount the city collects in property taxes, not what individual property owners pay.

Like many local governments, St. Paul did not increase its property tax levy last year to avoid adding costs for residents at the peak of pandemic-related shutdowns.

But now some St. Paulites are facing potentially hefty bill increases as the city, county and school board consider larger levy hikes to make up for last year's leniency. Local taxes on a $228,700 median-valued St. Paul home could rise by $338, or 11%, according to projections from the three governments earlier this year.

Tax bills are influenced by a variety of factors, including changes in home values. Property owners in St. Paul neighborhoods like the North End, Dayton's Bluff and Payne-Phalen could see above-average bill increases as a result of reassessments.

"The COVID crisis is not over financially. The hardship continues," Jerome Guettler said in a voicemail message sent to the City Council.

Three St. Paul residents shared public comments at City Hall, though council members tuned into the evening meeting remotely. About a dozen others left e-mails and voicemails for members — a sharp drop from the roughly 130 comments the council received at last year's truth-in-taxation meeting, many of which called on St. Paul to move police funding to alternative public safety programs.

However, as the city has continued to see an uptick in violent crime, public safety remains top of mind for many residents. Holly Huston, the council's chief budget officer, said the city gathered more than 300 responses to a survey about the 2022 budget — almost double the feedback officials received last year.

Respondents said they would prioritize funding to address gun violence, public safety and mental health supports, Huston said. About half of them said they'd prefer the city balance its budget by increasing process efficiencies.

Neighborhood safety, housing and infrastructure were most frequently ranked by respondents as suggested priorities for spending St. Paul's $166 million federal relief from the American Rescue Plan Act, Huston added. A handful of commenters voiced support Wednesday for the proposed Office of Neighborhood Safety, which would aim to curb violence with strategies and initiatives separate from the criminal justice system.

"This is a key priority for us as we continue to push for community-driven approaches to address crime, that tackles its root causes in a proactive and holistic manner," Gaye Sorenson said.

Council members previously said they would like to minimize the city's levy increase as some residents continue to grapple with the economic fallout of the pandemic. The council will vote on the final budget later this month.