The St. Paul City Council set the 2017 maximum property tax levy at nearly $114 million Wednesday, almost a week after Mayor Chris Coleman vetoed the council’s prior decision to cap the levy at a higher amount.
The new maximum levy would allow the city to collect up to 7.9 percent more in property taxes than it did this year. The council had pushed for more — an 8.6 percent increase — last week, citing delayed parks maintenance, a shortage of firefighters and the lack of services for youth in some neighborhoods.
Coleman vetoed the earlier decision and condemned it as “misguided.” He said last week that he would not support more than a 7 percent increase in the levy.
But spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said Wednesday that Coleman could not veto the levy again, because the city must set it by Friday. If officials do not do so, it would revert to this year’s $105.6 million levy.
“Council has run out the clock, so vetoing today’s action is not an option,” Tennessen said.
The mayor will instead focus on the final budget, which the city is scheduled to set in December, she said. The city can lower the $114 million levy over the next few months if officials find places to cut spending.
Council President Russ Stark said they settled on the $114 million levy after discussions with council members and Coleman’s office. The four council members who wanted a higher maximum levy scaled back their plan this week and said they will not fund the additional four firefighter positions or changes to the city’s STAR grant and loan program they initially proposed.
Support for the $114 million maximum levy was not unanimous. Council Members Dan Bostrom, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert, who all voted against the even higher proposal the week before, still opposed going above the $112.9 million levy the mayor suggested in August.
Bostrom and Tolbert said they have not seen enough information on how the additional taxpayer money would be used and are not convinced that such spending is necessary next year. St. Paul will be studying fire department and parks and recreation needs over the next year, and Coleman has said the city should use that information to make strategic investments.
Tolbert said he supports Coleman’s approach of waiting for an analysis.
“I think that’s a more prudent way to do it,” Tolbert said.
When council members were on the campaign trail last year, they heard from community members about their needs, Council Member Rebecca Noecker said. The city has put off parks and recreation facilities maintenance for a long time, she said, and continuing to wait to make those upgrades could prove more expensive for St. Paul.
“They are not necessities until all of a sudden they are emergencies,” she said.
Thao, however, said he could not support the higher levy because of the impact it would have on some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods.
“This is going to be a huge burden on the fixed-income folks,” Thao said.
He suggested the city should lobby the Legislature to allow them to tax sugar and corn syrup and use those profits to pay for the services and upkeep.
Thao also noted that the city levy is only one factor affecting residents’ tax bills. At a Joint Property Tax Advisory Committee meeting this week, county officials said the various levies and tax shifts expected to affect St. Paul residents would result in a $93 or $105 increase to the tax bill of a median value household.
The $93 increase was what would have occurred under the lower levy Coleman proposed in August, and the $105 jump accounted for the council’s previous levy that was vetoed.