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Monitor in a Minute

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Calvin


Max property tax levies are set
St. Paul’s property tax picture is coming into focus, with St. Paul School Board and City Council adoption of 2018 maximum property tax levies. The City Council approved city levies Sept. 20. The St. Paul School Board adopted its levy Sept. 19.

The Ramsey County Board did likewise Sept. 27, with a 4.3 percent increase over 2017’s levy.

State law calls for Minnesota’s local units of government to set maximum levies by the end of September. After that, levies can be reduced but not increased.
St. Paul city officials are setting the largest levy hike in recent memory, with a 23.9 percent increase over 2017. About 19 percent of the increase is driven by the end of the street right-of-way maintenance assessments for many services. Most services were shifted back to property taxes after a court decision found the charges couldn’t be assessed to tax-exempt property owners.

City Council approval of the 2018 levy was 6-1, with Ward Six Council Member Dan Bostrom against. He is hearing from constituents concerned about the level of increase and is concerned that the city officials are giving people “a false sense of security” when the high increase is described as a shift.

The maximum levy approved Sept. 20 is $139.3 million in 2018. Most of that, about $107.3 million is for city operations. The amount includes the $17.9 million levy for the library agency.

For 2017 the city levied $113.9 million.

The council also approved a $1.961 million maximum levy for the St. Paul Port Authority. The Port levy was $1.81 million.

The council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board, approved a $3.8 million HRA levy Sept. 13. That represents a $275,562 increase over 2017.

The city’s truth-in-taxation hearing is Wed., Dec. 6.

The levy increase proposed for St. Paul Public Schools is 6.6 percent. That amount was adopted Sept. 19.

Levy dollars will support the school district during the 2018-2019 school year. The total budget for 2018-2019 hasn’t been set.

School district staff outlined the factors affecting the levy including changes in pupil counts, legislative changes to education formulas, the inflation increase for the current referendum, pension contributions required by law, insurance, and other employee benefits, employment changes that drive severance need, capital bonding, long-term maintenance, and other obligations.

The school levy is divided into categories, for general operations, pension and contractual obligations, community education, and facilities.

The total levy proposed for 2018 is $157.2 million, up $9.2 million from 2017’s amount of $148 million. It represents a 6.22 percent levy increase.

The school’s truth-in-taxation hearing is at 6pm, Tues., Dec. 5 at 360 Colbourne. A final vote is Dec. 19.

Ramsey County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt proposed a biennial budget of $704 million for 2018 and $723 million for 2019—a 1.9 percent increase of $12.8 million in 2018 and a 2.8 percent increase of $19.5 million in 2019.

About 42 percent of the county’s budget is funded through property taxes. The proposal calls for an increase in Ramsey County’s property tax levy of 4.3 percent in each year, or $12.7 million in 2018 and $13.3 million in 2019. The county’s truth-in-taxation hearing is Nov. 27 at the Shoreview Branch Library.

Payment options are eyed
St. Paul City Council members and Mayor Chris Coleman are poring over a Citizens’ League study of payment instead of taxes and voluntary payment programs. The City Council accepted the report Sept. 6 after a presentation from study group co-chairs Kay Rakow and Joe Reid, and Sean Kershaw, president of the nonpartisan group.

The City Council will look at and discuss the study in the future. Any ideas that emerge won’t be part of the 2018 budget but would be implemented in 2019 at the earliest.

The task force study extended over several weeks. The group recommended that talks start soon with the city’s largest property-owned nonprofits. Coleman said in a statement that he is reaching out to the largest nonprofits.

Nonprofit property owners paid right-of-way maintenance assessments until 2016 when the Minnesota Supreme Court found that the payments are illegal.

Ways to make up that lost funding have been discussed by City Council members and city staff. In its last year, the right-of-way program brought in $32 million.
Council members were told that in the context of the city budget, a voluntary contribution program would bring in very little revenue. The report states that any payment program or initiative cannot and should not be viewed as a solution to the city’s budget challenges.

But it does recommend talks start soon about the possibility of voluntary payments. Rakow noted that most programs studied from around the country raise a very small amount of funding. Less than 25 percent of the city is tax-exempt property according to the study. That is comparable to other major Minnesota cities including Minneapolis and Duluth.

Tobacco restrictions laid over
Proposed restrictions on sales of menthol, wintergreen, mint, and fruit-flavored tobacco products will be discussed by the St. Paul City Council Oct. 25. If the proposal wins approval, it would take effect a year from now and would restrict the sales to tobacco shops, which are only open to adults.

The council held two packed hearings on the measure in September but laid the matter over. Ward Five Council Member Amy Brendmoen said that while she supports the ban, the process leading up the ordinance was flawed and lacked adequate input from both sides.

St. Paul has already restricted many flavored tobacco products but had left menthol, mint, and wintergreen products alone when it last changed the restrictions more than a year ago. The proposed ordinance adds fruit, menthol, mint, and wintergreen to the list of restricted flavors. The city already restricts products containing chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, and any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice. The ordinance governs tobacco products, tobacco-related devices including cigarette papers or pipes, tobacco vending machines, as well as “electronic delivery” or e-cig products.

Anti-tobacco advocates, led by the Association for Nonsmokers (ANSR) and the Beautiful Lie, Ugly Truth campaign have been lining up support for several weeks. The St. Paul School Board in June voted to support the restrictions. But tobacco companies and the stores that sell the products are fighting back, under the banner of the Enough is Enough St. Paul campaign. They contend that the sales will simply go underground, opening an illegal market that could criminalize smokers. Some store owners and employees dropped their keys on the podium when addressing the City Council, saying the ban would force businesses to close and jobs to be lost.

Housing project moves ahead
Low-Income Housing Tax Credits will be used to help provide housing for homeless youth in a new building project planned for University Ave. Project for Pride in Living and Ain Dah Yung are teaming up on the project at 771-785 University Ave. The St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Board, approved the project and a second Selby Ave. project for the tax credits.

The project will provide 42 affordable housing units for homeless and formerly homeless youth, between 18 and 24 years of age. The $11.4 million housing project is for low-income young people. The city is allocating $465,012 in tax credits for the project. The University Ave. site is currently a house, with a large vacant lot to the west.

The second project funded is for two mixed-use senior housing buildings on Selby Ave. That project is led by the Rondo Community Land Trust.

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