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St. Paul City Council lowers tax increase a bit more, but Rescue Squad fate still uncertain

Everyone was able to take some credit for budget cutting in St.

Everyone was able to take some credit for budget cutting in St. Paul this week: Mayor Chris Coleman had called for a lower property tax increase on Monday, saying there was enough “found money” to propose a 5.5 percent increase, down from his earlier proposed 6.5 percent increase.

The City Council lowered the tax levy even further Wednesday, knocking it down to a 4.98 percent increase.

And the council, meeting with 100 firefighters in the audience, restored funding to the fire department so that Rescue Squad 2 can remain in service.

But it might not be that easy. Although the council can fund programs, it’s up to the mayor to actually spend the money, and Coleman’s fire chief, Tim Butler, who’s appointed by the mayor, has said he thinks the city can do just fine with the other two Rescue Squads, and indicated he’d rather use the money to keep other units fully staffed.

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Council President Kathy Lantry told the Pioneer Press: “If the mayor chooses not to restore Rescue Squad 2, it won’t be restored.”

The mayor again backed the chief today, saying: 

“Chief Butler and I share a commitment to keep our residents and our firefighters safe, and I will follow his recommendations on how the fire department can best serve the people of Saint Paul.”

The council’s cuts will mean about six jobs lost, and others will go unfilled; but they did add $75,000 for homeless shelters and restored some cuts in morning library hours.

The mayor seemed to be OK with the council’s actions, for the most part, saying in a statement:

“Working together with Council, I’m pleased we’ve been able to further ease the property tax burden on our residents, and I support the $1.5 million reduction.

“When I came into office in 2006, I pledged to achieve structural balance in the city’s budget within four years. Working with Council, we did it in three years. As Council and I review these amendments, my primary focus will be to assess the use of one-time funding measures for ongoing and permanent spending.

“I look forward to working with Council in the coming days and weeks to achieve strong fiscal management in our budget process. This is a city we all care deeply about, and I am confident the final budget will best serve the residents of this great city.”