Remarks of Mayor Melvin Carter as Prepared for Delivery 2019 Budget Address

August 9, 2018

I am excited to finally share with you my proposed city budget for 2019. 

We are in a critical moment in our city. We are growing, we are changing. And as we continue to emerge as a 21st-century global community, we must work together to build a city that truly works for all of us.  

 In an increasingly polarizing national landscape, we must be champions of local unity, and move forward together in building a city that meets our needs today, but also creates a Saint Paul of the future that our children, and grandchildren want to live in. To realize this vision, we need a city budget that reflects our values and invests in a future for all of us. That is why our city budget invests in the people and things that matter most to us.  

We’ve built a big vision for our city; one that requires investment. Our 2019 budget proposal calls for more than $16M of new investments in our children and families; our workers, businesses and innovators; and our streets, sidewalks and bikeways, through a proposed 11.5% increase in our property tax levy. 

Because our tax base has expanded by two billion dollars over the past year, this proposal would amount to an increase of $76 per year – or about $6.33 per month – for a median value home. 

We approached this budget the same way my administration approaches everything – by asking for your help. I am grateful to the hundreds of people who came out to one of our budget engagement events over the past month.  Your engagement is critical – Saint Paul is too dynamic and too diverse for any one individual to alone possess all the knowledge and perspective to govern this incredible city.  

I greatly appreciate those of you who spent your time and energy diving into our city’s budget and sharing the values you’d like it to convey.  Four key takeaways emerged strongly from your feedback:

1 - Establish Clear Priorities; 

2 - Work smarter, not just harder; 

3 - Address our Core Challenges; and 

4 - It must relate to our lives. 

Number one: let’s clearly establish and focus on our priorities. We got a chance to practice that skill just last month, when some rookie mayor declined to pay $100k for fireworks. I expected that decision to be unpopular, but the overwhelming support from Saint Paul residents has been compelling – even those of us who love fireworks want our public dollars invested in efforts much more lasting.  

To that end, my budget proposal includes $2.5M in spending reductions across the city, to get us started retooling our budget for the future. 

Number two: work smarter, not just harder.  

It costs more each year just to continue doing the same things as before. This year was no different, as we faced a $14.6M budget gap, largely due to rising police and fire contracts. 

But when we told you in our budget games that it costs more each year just to do the same things as last year, you rejected the assignment, and demanded we set our sights higher than just increasing and decreasing the same old spending categories; to finding new, innovative approaches to city building. 

The biggest area we’ve heard this demand for innovation is in our Community First Public Safety Strategy, which focuses on connecting children and families to opportunity, and equipping first responders with the tools, training and trust to serve all our neighborhoods wel

We’ve had a robust discussion about public safety, and about how our city’s growing population puts new strains on our police and fire departments. Some have proposed that our city’s public safety challenges are best met by adding 50 new officers to our police department, at a cost of 5 million dollars per year.  My opposition to that proposal centers around the fact that while a well-balanced community needs police and much more, that price tag would leave little room for any other investments. 

To be clear, the men and women who protect and serve our city with dignity do deserve our support. My proposal not only maintains our all time high sworn strength at 626 officers, it raises their salaries as well, to reflect an increase I approved earlier this year.  We hold our officers to the highest standards of transparency and accountability, and they deserve our support. 

Our hearts and our news are full with the heartbreak of having lost Billy Hughes in a police-involved shooting earlier this week. I’ve spent the past few days sharing space with Mr. Hughes’ family and friends, community members and police officers alike who all grieve and mourn his loss.  While we still have too few details to know exactly what happened Sunday morning, the pain, hurt and anguish we experienced this week - and the historical trauma it invokes - demonstrates a clear ongoing need to constantly revisit, rethink and renew the underlying relationship and critical trust that must flow between our officers and our neighbors.  I am proud of the work Chief Axtell’s leadership team has done to implement the principles of 21st Century Policing and of our Community First Public Safety strategy. 

In response to your challenge to shift our lens on public safety, Chief Axtell and I have worked together to design a unique Mental Health Co-Responder Program, dedicating a half million dollar ongoing investment to embed social workers and mental health professionals alongside our Police Officers, to ensure those experiencing a mental health crisis can access the support and resources they need, and to free up our officers to respond to the next emergency. 

We have heard loud and clear the call to be more responsive and more accountable to those in our community who have been impacted by violence, especially survivors of sex crimes.  We have already worked with County Attorney John Choi to add 2 investigators to our sex crimes unit; my budget authorizes Chief Axtell to promote 4 new investigators, as well as two new Commanders – one to lead our sex crimes division, and one to implement our Community First Public Safety Strategy downtown. 

Our increasing population has meant more calls for our Fire Department too.  95% of those calls are for paramedic service, and while some are urgent medical emergencies, nearly half are calls for less serious medical assistance.  

My budget proposes just over a half million dollars to create a Basic Life Support – or BLS Response Team, staffed by Emergency Medical Technicians in three fire stations, to meet less serious calls with an appropriate level of service while leaving valuable paramedic and fire assets available to respond to the next call. 

Sadly, our public safety plan must include a strategy to defend our New American neighbors.  Just last week, video footage emerged of ICE agents forcibly arresting Carlos Urrutia as he was leaving a hearing in our own County Court Building, just upstairs from my City Hall office. Saint Paul cannot and will not be a city that does nothing while our neighbors are targeted. 

I am asking the City Council to amend our current year budget, to place $100,000 into an immigration legal defense fund to ensure that everyone in our community can access the legal service, support and resources they need to keep families together and safe. 

In 2019, we will add a new full-time immigration support services attorney in the City Attorney’s Office to provide ongoing outreach, engagement, support and advocacy to our immigrant and refugee communities. 

Number three - we’re ready to address our city’s core challenges, and know that chasing symptoms with short-term fixes is unsustainable. 

Safe, nurturing recreation center and library environments will set our children on a strong course to success.  Rebuilding our public right of way will reduce costs of future infrastructure challenges. And supporting local economic growth will build the foundation for the vibrant job market and tax base we’ll need to carry Saint Paul into the future. 

That’s why our public safety strategy has to go beyond law enforcement, to creating safer neighborhoods by connecting children and families to opportunity.  As a child, the Martin Luther King Center was a home away from home, where I attended afterschool and summer programs, formed lifelong bonds and learned valuable skills. When every Saint Paul child grows up with that experience, our city will be a fundamentally different place.  However, our fee-based programming model has created troubling disparities in our rec system, yielding stark differences in the quality of programming we provide from one neighborhood to the next. 

I am proposing a $200k investment to triple free rec programming citywide; restoring programming for the hundreds of primarily East African families who live near Highwood Hills Recreation Center, and beginning the process to redesign our Rice Recreation Center just down the street. 

We’re rethinking our public libraries too, and I can’t wait to tell you about it… at our Library Budget Address later this month. 

Anyone who’s driven around Saint Paul lately knows our streets need work.  We had more major snow events in the first few months of 2018 than we did in the previous 2 years combined, and that weather took its toll. I entered this budget cycle intending to propose significant investments in our pothole-filling budget. But potholes are only a symptom of our underlying need to reinvest in our streets. 

My proposal reduces future pothole and patching costs by doubling our mill and overlay program in our neighborhoods, and funding a 3-year plan to mill and overlay every street downtown; 

It adds $1.2 million to mitigate the impacts of Emerald Ash Borer; It puts an additional million dollars into sidewalk maintenance and half a million to create Saint Paul’s first-ever dedicated funding for bike lanes. 

Opportunity awaits all across our city. We are preparing to redevelop two 100+ acre urban redevelopment sites. Major League Soccer and expanded transit promise transformational new opportunities citywide, and downtown has incredible momentum.   

Making the most of these big opportunities means meeting them with a big vision and efficient permitting processes that facilitate success. To accomplish these goals, I propose adding 3 inspectors to address our current backlog of permit applications and keep pace with growing demand; Building a “Virtual One Shop”, with self service areas and user friendly kiosks where permit applicants can upload digital plans and meet virtually with staff across agencies; Investing in our cultural districts to create wealth and job opportunities, while offering destination and community space in our highest potential neighborhoods; and continuing our support for Full Stack, our partnership with the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce to help grow, retain and attract innovative companies. 

My final, and maybe most important takeaway from our budget engagement series is that this can only be our budget if it is relevant to our lives. While complying with standards, maintaining bond ratings and achieving structural balance are all critical, our budget must aim much higher than these baseline standards - it must address our needs. 

Across neighborhoods, races, ages and incomes, almost all of us share a common set of concerns about money. We all worry about making enough to make ends meet.  That’s why we’re focused on raising the minimum wage, so no one who works full time is ever stuck living in poverty. 

We worry about the costs of sending children to preschool, to afterschool and summer programs and to college. That’s why we’re investing in our recreation centers and libraries, and designing a College Savings Accounts program to start every child born in our city on the pathway to college from birth. 

We worry about the light bill; and the City does too. My budget makes available $5 million in internal loans from the city’s treasury to finance smart energy efficiency improvements in city buildings - starting with LED light bulbs - that will reduce our carbon footprint and save money. 

We worry about saving enough, investing enough, and making our money work for us.  Because our lowest income neighbors spend up to 10% of their monthly income on predatory financial products that keep them trapped in poverty, we will establish an Office of Financial Empowerment, to: 

Offer one on one financial counseling and education services, in partnership with local banks, nonprofits and credit unions; Connect our communities to quality financial institutions and products; and Coordinate our College Savings Accounts program. This office will play a critical role in helping us make better use of the money that already flows into and through our neighborhoods. 

Finally, because the first thing so many of us worry about every month is paying mortgage or rent, the centerpiece of my budget is a set of deep investments aimed at addressing our emerging housing crisis. 

Last month, our City Council unanimously passed a very clear resolution identifying affordable housing as one of our most pressing and critical challenges, and requesting “significant new funding” in my budget proposal dedicated to addressing these needs. I applaud their action, and share their concern.

In response, I am proposing an unprecedented one-time infusion of $10 million dollars, plus $2 million in ongoing annual investments to address our emerging housing crisis.  

To produce new housing, we will construct rental units targeted to 30-50% of Area Median Income; support new and existing homeownership, downpayment assistance and Community Land Trust efforts; and explore a series of pilot programs and options to reduce housing production costs and increase density. 

To preserve existing housing, we will invest to acquire and rehabilitate naturally occurring affordable units; preserve existing rent and income restricted buildings with expiring terms; and adopt a 4d policy that provides property tax incentives for owners who keep rents affordable. 

And we will protect our residents through investments in emergency assistance and Winter shelter; policies to reduce disparate impacts of criminal background and credit checks; and a new Administrative Citations tool to encourage code compliance without displacing tenants or criminalizing property owners.  

These smart new investments, combined with existing city and federal resources, will result in over 71 million dollars in housing investments in our community over the next three years. 

We are a city in the midst of rapid growth and change, with every advantage to compete and thrive in the global economy. For better or worse, our actions today will chart our path forward. 

I am confident that the series of smart, sensible investments in our budget proposal will help transform and retool Saint Paul to thrive in the economy of the future, while ensuring that all our neighborhoods benefit from our collective prosperity. 

I am hopeful that those of you who have joined us to build this big vision for our future will stand with me now, and meet the fierce urgency of our present day with the courage to invest in a tomorrow that is safer, more welcoming and more promising for every Saint Paulite. 

My speech this evening is far from the end of our budget engagement, it’s only the beginning.  

Our City Council will hold hearings on each part of this budget over the next few months, and vote to adopt a final budget in December.  I encourage you to stay engaged and see this process through. Whether you agree or disagree with the investments I’ve proposed, I invite you to continue this conversation with me, with your City Council Member, and with each other, and to show up at City Hall to participate in budget hearings throughout the Fall.   

Our voices can only be heard if all of us speak up. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you, and to being your teammate, as we move forward together towards our shared vision of a city that truly works for all of us. Thank you.