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Mayor Coleman proposes no property tax increase in St. Paul

The increase in state aid will keep the levy flat, he said, with proposed overall spending up less than half a percent.

Ward 2 Council Member Dave Thune, left, chats with Mayor Coleman following his speech.
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball

Mayor Chris Coleman said Wednesday that the increase in Local Government Aid from the Legislature means the city won’t have to raise property taxes in 2014.

On Thursday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is expected to make a similar declaration, announcing stable property taxes, or possibly even cuts, in his city.

Coleman, in his annual budget speech, proposed a $101 million levy for 2014, the same as in 2013.

The Legislature added $10.1 million to St. Paul’s LGA payments, bringing the total to $60.4 million, a level not seen since 2002.

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The zero property tax increase comes despite more than $12 million in inflation-related costs to the overall $510 million city budget.

Spending for next year would increase 0.46 percent under his proposal.

City Council President Kathy Lantry said after the speech, held at the new riverfront Matsuura Machinery USA plant on Randolph Avenue, said she likes the mayor’s proposal. The City Council will examine the budget and make final changes by the end of the year.

“I like how he’s taken the priorities we have as a city and aligned them with what we can afford,” she said.

Coleman said he’s treating the extra state aid like a one-time event and is pushing city departments to innovate and find further savings for coming years.

One such effort is a City Innovations Team, headed by city Budget Director Scott Cordes. It will find ways on how to improve the delivery of city services and work with residents to find the areas most needing change.

The mayor said Police Chief Tom Smith will seek federal funds to hire five more police officers, but because the federal aid will only cover three years of the cost, the city will find ways to pay for them in the future from existing resources.

Coleman also addressed recent crime problems on the East Side, particularly the recent brutal beating near Payne and Minnehaha, very close to the East Side Police Headquarters.

“We will be significantly increasing our presence in these pockets, bringing additional police efforts and coordinating our efforts with Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, probation officials and City Attorney Sara Grewing,” the mayor said.

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On the fire department front, Coleman proposes to add another ladder truck to Station 19 in Highland Park to resolve a dispute with the firefighters. He’s also proposing $1.5 million to develop a soccer/football field at El Rio Vista Fields on the West Side, and $650,000 to replace and improve the play area across the street.

And there’s an additional $1 million to replace aging sidewalks in Highland Park.

Recycling efforts also will be beefed up, with single-source recycling and expanded plastics recycling.

Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who represents Como and the North End, said she’s very pleased with improved innovation and technology efforts in the proposed budget.

“There’ll be some costs up front, but in the end it will save the city lots over time,” she said.