In 2020 budget addresses this week, sophomore Twin Cities mayors Jacob Frey and Melvin Carter faced the difficult realities of urban growth while trying to stay true to the campaign pledges that got them elected.
Frey’s proposed Minneapolis budget makes greater public safety a priority with a recommendation to add 14 sworn officers to the increasingly stretched police force. And Carter wants to put $20 million into replacing or repairing St. Paul’s deteriorating streets. Both wisely hope to devote millions to affordable housing to help lower-income residents.
Frey’s recommended budget is $1.62 billion — an increase of $54.3 million, or 3.5%. His plan would result in a 6.95% increase to the property tax levy and an estimated $109 annual property tax increase for a $249,500 median-value home.
In Minnesota’s largest city, public safety, downtown crime and police reform and staffing are among the most hotly debated issues. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo recently said his department needs an additional 400 officers by 2025. Although the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued that Arradondo’s goal is unrealistic, the city’s growth has put more demands on the police force, and more officers are needed. Even though some council members reject the idea — and the mayor delivered his address over the shouts of anti-police protesters — putting more officers on the street is a worthwhile goal. Of the 14 proposed officers, three would go to traffic, three would investigate sexual assault complaints, and eight would work as neighborhood outreach officers walking a beat.
“There is no time to waste on false choices and binary options in addressing the causes of crime and violence in our city,” Frey rightly said during his address. “We need safety beyond policing, but we still need police.”
Carter’s proposed $622 million 2020 budget is up $7.6 million and would result in a 4.85% property levy hike. Under that change, the owner of a $200,000 median-value home would pay $55 more per year for the city’s portion of the property tax.
Carter proposes a mix of budget reductions, including cutting five officers from the police force. He hopes reallocations of existing positions will put more officers on patrol. Still, the City Council should carefully consider the impact on the city’s police force before approving the cuts.
The mayor’s budget nods to a recent public works assessment that concluded the city needs to spend $50 million per year on street maintenance. Carter’s proposal includes $20.3 million for street resurfacing and reconstruction, and he hopes the city will get infrastructure help from the state and federal governments. He shouldn’t hold his breath.
In separate interviews with the Editorial Board, it was encouraging to hear Frey and Carter both recognize the need for fiscally responsible budgets. Taxpayers in both cities have seen steadily rising property taxes in recent years, with especially large hikes in St. Paul. And at the same time vital and expensive city functions such as policing and street maintenance are foremost on the minds of the majority of residents.
Frey and Carter were elected after campaigns in which they emphasized economic inequality, sustainability and other issues that they are not abandoning in their 2020 budgets. But they’re also facing pressure to deliver the basics to city residents.
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are thriving Midwestern cities. To stay that way, especially if economic growth slows, both must invest in critical infrastructure needs and not neglect the growing complexities of public safety.