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St. Paul Mayor Coleman’s budget would add cops, raise tax levy 1.9%

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wants to fill seven police department vacancies and improve library programming and infrastructure.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wants to fill seven police department vacancies and improve library programming and infrastructure while keeping spending down next year.

City spending will actually drop $1 million, compared with last year, Coleman said today when he present his proposed budget at the Farmers’ Market in Lowertown. Less money coming from the state, though, will mean a 1.9 percent tax levy increase. He says that’s less than inflation.

“Responsible government isn’t just about keeping costs down,” Coleman said. “It’s about asking the question, ‘Are we investing in the things that we value?’ This budget reflects a dedication to children and public safety.  It understands the importance of private investment.  It prioritizes green space and our parks.  It continues our investment in critical infrastructure. “

Coleman pointed out recent city improvements: a new Como pool, businesses in Lowertown, the start of the Penfield project in downtown. He alluded to a new Saints baseball park, proposed for the old Gillette site and awaiting word of state funding.

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He said the city is committed to a Frogtown Farms project, that will provide park space and community gardens in an area of town that hasn’t seen much city investment.

And he talked about planning work under way to replace the closed Ford Plant in Highland Park:

“We continue to look towards the Ford site as one of the most transformative opportunities in the history of the city,” he said.  “This work will not be done in a matter of months. It will take place over many years to come.  But we are going to get it right.  I want the redevelopment of the site to be an international model of best practices in mixed use development with the absolutely best sustainability practices in the world.”

He agreed to restore $1 million to the police budget, which will include filling seven vacancies. And last week the city announced an agreement with the fire union to save a rescue squad from budget cuts, in return for temporary cuts in service at a fire station. (That agreement staved off a planned fire department protest at today’s speech.)

The mayor’s budget also proposes adding a lawyer to the city attorney’s office to work with police to reduce street crime.

And there’s money in the budget for an assessment of how the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections does its job:

“DSI has a monumental task before them to assess, inspect and ensure that the homes in our city are safe and secure.  With their work, we’re fast on our way to recovery,” Coleman said.

“But, as Council President Lantry, Councilmember Brendmoen and others have suggested, it is time to do a thorough assessment of how the department operates.  It will be an opportunity to examine how the department is run and how we can create a better, more efficient process for our customers — whether you are an already-established business, a new prospective employer or a resident of our city hoping to remodel your house.”

The city council members now will have a look at Coleman’s planned budget and provide some tweaks of their own before the budget is finalized at the end of the year.