Mayor Chris Coleman’s 2016 Budget Address

As prepared for Delivery

August 11, 2015

Thank you Council President Stark. It’s been a pleasure working with the Council under your leadership.

I’d also like to extend a special thanks to retiring Councilmember Dave Thune for what will be his last budget address as a city councilmember. Let’s thank Dave for his service.


And to you, Councilmember Finney, thanks for stepping up and serving the Eastside these past several months.

To the city’s budget and finance staff – we simply wouldn’t be here today were it not for your hard work and smarts.

And, of course, to the dedicated staff here at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center – thank you for accommodating us today in this wonderful gathering place – named for two of our state’s finest public servants. Paul and Sheila truly understood the importance of working together as a community for the betterment of all.

And to the nearly 500 people who participated in our budget pop-up meetings this year – thank you. At events like Rondo Days and the Dragon Festival and at locations on the East side and the West side, we talked about what people want the city’s budget to address and what Saint Paul residents love about our city.

Have a listen.


We also compiled some of what people said into this word cloud.

  • Schools
  • Community
  • Neighborhoods
  • People
  • Parks
  • Diversity

… are just some of the words we heard. People love our city and they are confident we can seize this moment.


This past decade of budgeting has been about getting our fiscal house in order so that our growth and vitality are equally sound and sustainable.

When I became Mayor 10 years ago, we set out to achieve a structurally balanced budget in four years – and achieved it in three. Even throughout the “Great Recession,” Saint Paul maintained our AAA credit rating. And since 2012, we have stabilized the city’s reserves to ensure long-term sustainability.

As a result, we’ve been able to invest in ways that ensure Saint Paul can compete in a 21st Century economy. And what an incredible moment we are at in our city’s history.

  • Our population has grown to our highest numbers in 40 years
  • Property values are growing in every ward
  • Our tax base is up nearly 5 percent this year over last, and up more than 12 percent since 2013
  • Lowertown and neighborhood commercial areas are booming
  • The Green Line is surpassing ridership estimates – encouraging a new vitality throughout the Central Corridor
  • Violent crime is down dramatically across the city compared to just five years ago
  • There is renewed vitality in our neighborhoods
  • Graduation rates are up for all children in our city


Despite the good news, there are still challenges to confront. For the 2016, just as in most of the past 10 years, we start with a nearly $10 million deficit. And while much of this hole is caused by inflationary pressure, it continues to be made worse by failure of the State to adequately fund Local Government Aid – or LGA.

Last fall, a veteran reporter at the state capitol who has covered more budgets than just about anyone up there, only half-jokingly begged me to not hold another press conference on the need for increased LGA. My response was that I would love to be able to stop talking about local property tax relief – but that until LGA is restored to 2003 levels with inflationary growth built in, I will continue to stand with Mayors from across the state to fight on behalf of our communities.

Here in Saint Paul, LGA currently makes up 26 percent of our general fund budget, with more than 71 percent of the general budget itself dedicated to public safety. Even after the LGA increases in 2014 and 2015, when adjusting for inflation, Saint Paul is still 44 percent – or $47 million – short of the amount we would have had before LGA became a political football in 2003.

Mayors around the state understand the need for increased LGA. We’ve innovated and we’ve cut, and we’ve done so thoughtfully and repeatedly. If the state were to use $67.5 million of its $2 billion surplus to restore LGA to its 2003 certified levels, local property taxpayers would experience immediate relief.


Through driving department efficiencies, realizing savings and leveraging a growing economy by capturing revenue growth and strategically identifying opportunities for new revenue, we were able to close the $10 million gap.

But to maintain the quality services people expect in the capital city – which is what my 2016 budget does – I am proposing a General Fund Budget of $258 million, and an overall budget of $545.8 million, an increase of about 3.5% over 2015. Of the $18 million overall increase, more than two-thirds of the spending growth comes from one-time investments that will provide long term financial benefits. The budget also includes modest growth in the property tax levy of 1.9 percent – which reflects the rate of inflation and is considerably lower than the robust 4.9 percent growth in our tax base this year.


In addition to getting our fiscal house in order over this past decade, this budget ensures we are continuing to bring our physical house into order too.

As in many other communities across the state and country, 2014 presented some of the worst road conditions our community has ever experienced. At the time, I said that maneuvering across the craters on the moon might have been easier than biking, walking or driving across Hamline and Cretin. And I couldn’t find anyone who disagreed with me on that point.

As if conditions weren’t bad enough, we learned in September that the outer lanes of the Kellogg Boulevard-Third Street Bridge – connecting Eastsiders to Downtown – were deemed structurally deficient. We took urgent action and reduced vehicle traffic on the bridge. We also immediately reached out to our partners at the state and federal level to get input on the future goals for this bridge. The reconstruction of this bridge was our top-ranked bonding priority at the state capitol this past legislative session, and it will be again in 2016. I want to thank the Saint Paul Legislative Delegation for their support and work on behalf of this critical project.

But even as local cities and municipalities are squeezed, we must do everything we can with our city’s limited resources to preserve our existing infrastructure. That’s why this past year, Saint Paul committed a record $54 million toward investments in street repair and transportation upgrades – including $34 million in new money. I promised that with this investment, taxpayers could expect we would address the “Terrible 20” – the worst streets in the system based on road condition and traffic volume.

I am pleased to report that we are delivering on that promise. Today, 55 percent of the “Terrible 20” are repaired or slated for construction this fall, and the remaining will be 97 percent completed by 2017.

My budget also includes a Right of Way Increase of two and a half percent. This will ensure we can keep pace with needed investments. In 2016, my budget reflects approximately $25 million in continued investments in street- repair and year-round maintenance.

And as I have said before, Saint Paul needs to be a city that works for everyone, whether they are age eight or age 80 – and whether they are traveling by foot, car, transit or bicycle. We passed the historic Saint Paul Bicycle Plan this year, which included a blueprint for more than doubling bike pathways and connections throughout Saint Paul over the next several decades. But simply passing the plan does not mean our work is done. I am urging all bike advocates and all people who want to see better balance across our transportation infrastructure – to join in the public process in the coming years as we work to make each leg of this bicycle blueprint a reality.

And while investments in street repair are critical, we also need to ensure sound management. To that end, with external pro-bono support from Civic Consulting and additional support from the city’s Innovations team, Public Works Director Kathy Lantry will be leading a realignment of the department’s resources in the coming year with the goals of quality customer service, improved service delivery models, increased transparency and improved street maintenance.


As our population grows, as night life continues to surge in places like Lowertown and other neighborhood commercial areas, as light rail and new businesses fuel new excitement and economic activity across the city, we need to continue to invest strategically in public safety – to protect our people, our investments and our future.

Our Police Department’s sworn compliment will remain at last year’s historic authorized strength of 615 officers – up from 576 just 10 years ago.

Maintaining our police force means we can continue to forge strong and trusting relationships with the communities we serve – a defining quality of the department under Chief Smith. I’m particularly proud of the way the police worked with staff, community members and kids at the new Arlington Hills Community Center. We’ve seen tremendous collaboration and trust grow since opening those doors just over a year ago.

Our police officers are working day in and day out to ensure strong relationships with the community. Last year, our Safe Summer Nights program gave 10,000 residents opportunities to get to know their police officers over hot dogs and lemonade. Of the 4,000 children who participated in our Police Athletic League this past year – 94 percent of them were children of color. And we continued to reach kids through the East and West African Junior Police Academy – the first academy of its kind in the country.

Additionally, the city has partnered with the Saint Paul Port Authority to develop a new, state-of-the-art public safety training facility at 600 Lafayette. Thanks to a $3 million contribution from the Saint Paul Police Foundation – the Port was able to acquire the property just last month. The new facility will ensure our public safety officers have access to state-of-the-art training in this modern facility. Our officers will continue to be mentally, physically and tactically prepared to serve and protect. Well-trained officers make our community a safer place for everyone. We expect to have the project completed by the end of 2017.

We will also invest $3 million over the next three years to modernize the police department’s records management system. Our current system was created in-house in the late 1990s and is out of step with current best practices. By making this investment, we will be able to better track data required to address crime trends and efficiently conduct mandatory state reporting.

Our Fire Department also continues to do heroic work. Chief Butler was recognized as Minnesota’s Fire Officer of the Year by his fellow chiefs. And it’s no wonder. Our Fire Department responded to over 40,000 calls for emergency service – each one, according to the chief, is an opportunity to save a life or property or to ease pain, fear or discomfort.

My 2016 budget will ensure our Fire Department maintains its average daily staffing at 114. We will also make key investments in upgrades to our fire stations.

In 2014, we invested approximately $2 million into expanding Station 19 in Highland Park. The expansion is needed to allow for more crews as well as relocation of an existing ladder truck – both of which are key to eliminating a recognized service gap. Unfortunately, the cost of that project proved to be much greater than we had hoped. But, the need still exists. I am adding an additional $1.3 million to complete it. Let’s get this project done.

We will also commit $1 million in 2017 to start initial planning and design for renovation and possible relocation of Station 20, which currently abuts the Green Line on University Avenue.

Chief Butler and I remain committed to diversifying the ranks of the Fire Department through both the Fire Medic Cadet program and our EMS Academy.

In 2015, the Fire Department began the three year apprenticeship program to train Fire Medic Cadets for careers as St. Paul firefighters. My 2016 budget will enable the department to bring on four cadets for half the year, and the program is expected to grow by 4 cadets per year until there are 12 total cadets enrolled.

My budget will also continue to fund the EMS Academy program. In fact, Chief Butler and I are pleased to be joined here today by Dorwen Bishop. I am excited to announce today that this Saint Paul resident and 2012 Central High School graduate has officially been hired on as a firefighter and paramedic with the department – representing the first of what we hope will be many EMS Academy graduates hired into the ranks of our firefighters.

Dorwen, thank you for your tenacity as you put yourself through paramedic school – and congratulations on your successful completion of the Fire Academy last week. We are excited to watch you grow in your career and we stand with you, fully committed to your success and that of your colleagues.

One of the issues Sheila Wellstone was most known for was her work to protect victims of domestic violence. She said that what called her to the work was the intolerable notion that a woman’s home could be the most violent and most anxious place for her – and even the most deadly.

In 2014, the Saint Paul City Attorney’s Office launched the Joint Special Victims Unit in collaboration with the Ramsey County Attorneys’ Office. This innovative unit focuses on the most lethal and dangerous domestic violence and elder abuse cases. My budget will add a full-time victim witness advocate to work closely with prosecutors in the criminal division. Their job will be to ensure our most vulnerable victims have the support they need to courageously testify against their perpetrators.


In my conversations with members of the community during our pop-up meetings this summer, more than any other issue, people told me that education is their top priority.

I’m so proud of the investments we’ve made in the 21st Century model of learning and engagement evident in the new Arlington Hills Community Center. Arlington Hills Library has seen off-the-charts engagement and participation since its opening. In its first year, library circulation was up 85 percent and over 2,000 new library cards were registered. Combined with last year’s investments in Sun Ray and Highland Park Libraries, we are reimagining how our libraries and parks can work together to deliver educational services.

My 2016 budget proposal will continue to build on these investments in out-of-school-time learning.

We will fully fund expanded hours at our libraries – maintaining the commitment that was made during our city’s 2015 budget. I’m also announcing today that Superintendent Valeria Silva, Library Director Kit Hadley and I have also set a goal of ensuring every child in Saint Paul receives a public library card by the end of 2017. We have begun the necessary planning and aim to implement the Library Challenge Initiative during the 2016-2017 school year.

Sprockets, our nationally recognized out-of-school time learning network, and Right Track, our highly successful workplace readiness initiative, will both continue to receive full funding in my 2016 budget.

Bringing together the city, Saint Paul Public Schools, businesses, and community based organizations, Right Track ensures work readiness and employment opportunities for youth. Last year 1,725 youth applied for internships, 608 received jobs and 99 percent of them successfully completed their internships. The direct benefi to Saint Paul’s economy was nearly $625,000 in earned wages. And, of course, these internships give young people exposure to private and public sector work experiences that they are going to need to be successful in life.

Today, we are joined today by four Right Track graduates. These individuals have all graduated from high school and are either in college or set to begin college this fall. While I can’t share all of their stories with you today, I will share one – and I encourage you to talk to them today. They are powerful individuals and their stories are full of promise.

Tezazu (pronounced Tuh-ZAH-Zoo) Asmelash (OS-me-LOSH) was born in Axum (pronounced OCK Soom), Ethiopia and moved here at the age of 13. Tezazu didn’t know any English when he started as a student at Humboldt High School during his first Minnesota winter.

His first job with Right Track was with the Conservation Corps in the Spring of 2014. He then worked at Ecolab as a Right Track intern for two summers in a row. Tezazu will attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities this fall where he’ll study computer science. He insists that it is the experiences he gained through Right Track that helped prepare him for college.

I’d like to thank Ecolab and our many private-sector and non-profit partners who are hiring Right Track interns like Tezazu. Your investments are making a powerful difference in the lives of these young people and in the future of our community. And, as we are entering our recruitment phase for next year, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask every employer in this room to hire a Right Track intern if you haven’t already. And if you have, I ask you to increase your commitment to Saint Paul’s future by hiring even more next year.

Two years ago, the city adopted the Great River Passage Plan, an award winning effort to activate the public spaces along our 17 miles of the Mississippi River. Consistent with this vision, we have seen the growth of on-river programming from partner organizations like Wilderness Inquiry and Mississippi River Fund, new housing options like West Side Flats, and continued success of events such as Hmong American Day and Irish Fair.

As part of my budget, we will invest $150,000 – which will match $150,000 received from the state legacy funds – to advance implementation of the Great River Passage plan. Under the guidance of Parks Director Mike Hahm, we'll structure these resources in a way that will work to leverage additional private investment and the work of the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation. This investment will be the next step in launching plans that guide all future development of the 17 miles of parklands along the Mississippi, and ensure the development is done as a single, integrated riverfront park system.

This year, of course, our Parks were recognized by the Trust for Public Land as the number one parks system in the country – tied with Minneapolis. When people on the street talk about parks, many have a favorite rec center, playground, hockey rink or pool. I grew up playing at Linwood Park.

I know how important these spaces are for children and families – and for building community.

In 2016, we will be making a major investment in rec centers across the city, including Wilder, Palace and Scheffer.

We will also improve the ice rinks at Phalen and North Dale so they are year-round recreation options for kids and families. And we will renovate or replace playgrounds at Jimmy Lee, Frogtown Farm, Sylvan, Marydale, Highland and May Parks to ensure they are safe, engaging play options for children. I’d like to thank Councilmembers Bostrom, Brendmoen and the rest of council for their support of these initiatives.

And I am excited to announce that my budget includes $200,000 for the city’s first universally accessible playground at Victoria Park in the Ford Road neighborhood. Visitors of all abilities will be able to play and enjoy the amazing views of the Mississippi River and downtown skyline. I want to thank Councilmember Tolbert, Councilmember Thune and his son Dusty – who teaches special education in the Saint Paul Public Schools. I’d also like to thank the Highland Park Friendship Club. All have been strong advocates for this investment.

And while many of our parks and library programs are free, we need to continually strive to ensure we are putting them within reach for our residents. This summer, with Councilmember Dai Thao’s support, we implemented our first voucher program for our pools. We distributed 5,000 daily swim vouchers to 30 youth-serving-organizations in the community for use at Como, Highland, and Great River pools. Given the success, the voucher program will remain fully funded in our 2016 budget, and will be paid for by a modest fee increase at our pools – which is still below our neighboring communities.

Our park are places for all to play. But oftentimes they are places where people go for healing and reflection. Last month, members of our community – many of whom shared first hand memories of growing up in the Rondo neighborhood – gathered to recall the tragic destruction of that once-thriving neighborhood. On behalf of the city, I apologized to the community for the decision of Federal, State and local officials that led to tearing out the heart of this African American community to build a freeway. The ceremony took place on a lot on the corner of Concordia and Fisk, in the heart of the old Rondo Community. Soon, that empty lot will be the site of the Rondo Commemorative Plaza and Garden. The vision for this plaza has been supported by community leaders like Marvin Anderson, Floyd Smaller and many others. In 2016, we will get this project rolling with $250K of CIB investment.


Whether it is building a 21st Century Community at the former Ford site, opening CHS Field, building on the opportunities that come from the Green Line’s robust ridership along the central corridor, I am more bullish than ever about Saint Paul’s growth and continued vitality.

The city will also continue to invest $750,000 in the Commercial Vitality Zone initiative, which began this year and will work to create jobs, expand tax base and increase vitality in neighborhoods across the city.

And with any community like ours, experiencing such incredible momentum in our downtown and neighborhood commercial zones, it’s time to revisit our parking strategy. While only one of the hundreds of people I spoke to during our budget pop-up meetings mentioned parking as their top priority needing to be addressed, we know it’s critical that we manage this well as part of our overall strategy for growth. Downtown stakeholders have come together to do just that.

The Downtown Parking Study, completed earlier this year, underscored our need to adopt a market-based approach to parking. Beyond contributing to the vitality of our city, doing so will allow us to share the cost of delivering city services with those who come into the city to work, shop or play.

My budget will move us to a market-based approach and will incorporate the following key takeaways from the study.

First, there is an ample supply of parking to meet the demands. Even at its busiest times, there are more than 7,500 empty parking spaces throughout the downtown.

Second, our meter and ramp strategies need to complement one another. The goal will be to preserve on-street parking for shorter-term use by people who may be frequenting a small business, while encouraging longer-term parkers to move to ramps and lots.

Third, we need to provide better information through tactics like improved signage and wayfinding and increased awareness about transit options for employees and visitors.

With the support of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and others, we will adjust downtown pricing to more closely reflect demand. Beginning January 1, we will extend the current metered parking enforcement from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. We will also establish higher “event-rates” for on-street parking – encouraging greater use of nearby parking ramps and lots.

This new strategy will include replacing our older meters, enabling better customer service and more convenient payment options – including possible cell phone payments.

Additionally, beginning this fall, we will be working with district councils and local business associations to identify one or more neighborhood commercial areas in which to pilot a new meter program in 2016. As in the downtown area, our goal with the neighborhood pilot will be to incent long-term parkers to move to ramps and lots, freeing up on-street parking for those patronizing local businesses, shops and restaurants.

I am asking the Advisory Committee that worked on the Downtown Parking Management Strategy to monitor the effectiveness of these measures downtown – and will be similarly seeking input from the community and business groups impacted by the neighborhood pilot.

The goal will be to make appropriate adjustments and expand the neighborhood commercial area meters beyond the pilot in 2016.

All told, we anticipate $1.6 million in additional revenue through this parking plan – which reduces the overall burden on property owners for city services.


So, as we gather this afternoon in this venue, named for Paul and Sheila, I want to take a moment to reflect on the Wellstones.

As many of you know, Paul taught at Carleton College and he considered himself a teacher even after years in the Senate.

During a speech he made to the Columbia University Teaching College just a couple of years before his death, he captured a sentiment I believe in deeply.

As he spoke to this group of young people – people who were bright, who were attending one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world, who had infinite career options to choose from, but had very intentionally dedicated themselves to teaching – he said that he was convinced that the best thing he had ever said to his own students was, “You will be more credible and you will be more powerful in a positive way if you do not separate the lives you live from the words you speak.”

Similarly, we cannot separate the dollars we spend from the community we want to create. The budget I present today invests in those things that we value in our city and in the things we want to improve upon. In conversations over dinner tables, in bike shops, in taprooms and during pop-up meetings, we’ve talked about our shared values of educating our young people, of ensuring equity in our city, of keeping people safe and of building a city that can compete in a 21st Century economy.

This budget is a reflection of those values.

Thank you.


Last Edited: August 4, 2016