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St. Paul City Council approves 2020 budget with split vote

Updated: December 11, 2019 10:47 PM

Public safety has been a big focus of the St. Paul budget process for weeks, with Mayor Melvin Carter asking several communities for input on his supplemental budget proposal.

It was incorporated into the final $636 million budget, approved by the City Council on Wednesday.

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Council President Amy Brendmoen and Council Members Chris Tolbert, Mitra Jalali Nelson and Rebecca Noecker voted in support of the 2020 budget.

Council Members Dai Thao, Jane Prince and Kassim Busuri voted against it.

The final tally was 4 to 3.

“I’m voting yes for all of the progress we've made and to keep building on it,” said Jalali Nelson. “This year, we're moving a really significant step forward to taking a holistic approach to addressing gun violence.”

The mayor's supplemental public safety budget proposal funds several initiatives. Those include community ambassadors, mental health co-responders, and employment programs for youth who have interacted with the justice system.

St. Paul police budget presentation to include push for more officers

“We're looking at innovative ways to go upstream and reduce the pressure on our police force,” said Brendmoen.

The budget also eliminates five sworn positions within the police department. A decision that comes as city leaders wait for a staff report on policing.

“What are the needs and shortcomings of the police staffing model that we currently use? So that we can use that data and information to help us plan for 2021,” said Brendmoen.

For Prince, the budget came up short.

“I will vote no on this budget because it does not cover the basics, and it funds extras my ward cannot afford,” she said.

“While we have lots of the right pieces in the mayor's supplemental budget, it lacks the logic and cohesion to properly and effectively and equitably address the problems we face. It doesn't represent a strong partnership between the administration and the chief of police.”

Prince voiced concern about the number of officers deployable on the streets, arguing it comes up short.

“Many serious and ongoing safety needs are not being addressed,” she said.

The City Council also approved a 5.85% property tax levy increase. According to Brendmoen, average homeowners will pay about an extra $91 per year.

Proposed St. Paul budget includes property tax levy increase

“We work every year to try to keep the property levy as low as possible,” she said. “I think 5.85% reflects a modest increase given the investments that we're making and the challenges that we have as a city.”

But Thao, who voted against both the budget and levy increase, argued the city could’ve avoided the increase by using available funds more wisely.

“We squirrel money away,” he said. “I think we missed an opportunity here to really give the resident a break.”

Mayor Melvin Carter declined KSTP's interview request, releasing the following statement:

“Our City Council has met the urgency we’ve heard from residents over the past few months with a bold set of investments that will serve our families and businesses well. I congratulate them on their successful budget vote today.”

Police Chief Todd Axtell released the following statement:

“I appreciate the difficulty associated with developing a budget that balances immediate needs with long term goals. I respect the decisions made by Mayor Carter and the City Council, and as always, I will continue to make strategic decisions that allow the women and men of the SPPD to provide the best and most professional public safety services with the resources they’ve allocated to the department.”

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