Carter shares budget proposal, addresses East Side projects


Mayor Melvin Carter

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter shared his priorities for the 2019 St. Paul Budget during an address at Washington Technology Magnet Middle School on Aug. 9.

Carter said his budget proposal calls for more than $16 million of new investments, paid for through an 11.5 percent property tax levy increase — $76 more per year for a median-value home. 

His total proposed budget is $606 million, compared to the 2018 budget of $569 million.

Through a series events over the past month, the city took feedback from citizens on what their priorities were for the city, which Carter boiled down to four takeaways in his address: establish clear priorities; work smarter, not just harder; address core challenges; and connect everyday investments to everyday lives. 

Based off that feedback, Carter shared his highlights of his budget proposal during the address.

 

Bringing programs back to the East Side

One of the priorities Carter listed was investing $200,000 to increase recreational programming across the city and restore programming to Highwood Hills Recreation Center on the East Side.

Highwood Hills rec is located within Highwood Hills Elementary School. The center has gone without programming for nearly a decade, after it was part of a large set of cutbacks years ago that eliminated programming from a number of East Side recreation centers like Eastview and Conway. 

The recreation center serves a neighborhood that consists of a large East African community. St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince, who represents the Ward 7 neighborhood, said there are few community gathering spaces and that it’s “critically important that kids and families have a place to gather.”

“I was really pleased [Carter] had included Highwood Hills in his budget proposal,” Prince said, adding that establishing programming at the center has been a priority for her since she came to office in 2016. 

She said while Battle Creek Recreation Center is nearby, many of the East African families that need the space live in apartments at Afton View or Shamrock Court, which are far away for kids and moms to walk safely to Battle Creek.

Community organizer Amin Omar, who lives near the center with his family, has also been pushing to have to center reopened. 

He said the community needs the space, so kids have a safe place away from gangs and away from terrorist recruitment. 

Omar said he was glad the mayor included the center in his budget proposal and hopes the plan won’t get pushed away or diminished by the council. 

 

Other investments

During Carter’s budget address, he said he dedicated $500,000 to the newly designed Mental Health Co-Responder Program through the police department, something he said he and Police Chief Todd Axtell have worked on. 

The program will work to embed social workers and mental health professionals alongside police officers to help those dealing with a mental health crisis find the help they need. 

He also proposed $122,000 to expand the investigative the capacity of the St. Paul Police Department, which includes a new, dedicated commander for the department’s Sex Crimes Unit. 

The proposal also included $1 million for fire department investments, including planning money for the renovation of Fire Station 7 in Dayton’s Bluff. 

Carter also proposed placing $100,000 into an immigration legal defense fund to provide legal access for families.

Recognizing a common complaint from St. Paulites about potholes, especially in the spring, Carter said he proposed doubling the city’s mill and overlay program to not only patch potholes, but to do more long-term maintenance on more roads to prevent potholes. 

Carter said the “centerpiece” of his budget is investments aimed at addressing the emerging housing crisis.

“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,” he said. 

Carter said his proposal will aim to construct rental units targeted at 30 to 50 percent of the area median income, support new and existing homeownership, have down payment assistance and Community Land Trust efforts, and explore pilot programs to reduce housing production costs and increase density. 

Carter’s proposal also included nearly $2.7 million for business programs.

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

Over the next few months the city council will analyze the mayor’s proposal and, according to city documents, will vote to adopt the budget at the end of the year. 

For more details about the mayor’s proposed budget, go to www.stpaul.gov/departments/mayors-office/our-city-our-budget.

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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