“Property Taxes are soaring. Property values are dropping. What are you going to do about the elderly?” said one woman at the Ward 4 meeting on March 4 at the Goodwill Building in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. Ward 4 City Councilmember Russ Stark had called the meeting to discuss the tough time the city is facing with the drastic budget cuts.
For more information on Ward 4, see Ward 4 web page
While taxes were mentioned by several in attendance at the meeting, the largest number of participants appeared to be supporters of the Hamline Midway Branch Library and residents who live adjacent to Como Park. The library is slated to close in preliminary budget- cuts proposed by Mayor Chris Coleman. Little kids sat in the front row with signs supporting the library.
Meeting participants swarmed the sign-in table, then settled in for a conversation with Stark who said, “ I’m here to recruit you to help me come up with some good ideas to solve the budget crisis,” which he described as “real and bad.” He told the 60 or so in attendance that he was looking to them to help him come up with ideas for “ budget reductions we can live with.”
The group broke up into several small groups to brainstorm ideas that would improve the efficiency or reduce the budget and for possible new revenue sources. Whether by design or pure chance, there were library supporters and Como Park advocates in every group.
As each group reported to the others, some common themes emerged – weatherize city buildings, reduce work hours to avoid lay-offs, reduce overtime hours for city employees, and go to a single hauler trash system in the city.
One woman suggested re-negotiating both union and non-union contracts with city employees. Another proposed that the city be more vigilant about collecting snow emergency ticket fees.
A number of people had ideas for the library system in general that included, charging a fee to obtain a library card, charging to rent videos and DVD’s from the library, and charging to use the meeting rooms in the libraries . Some other thoughts – recruiting volunteers to assist library paid staff, and setting up a City Corps ( similar to AmeriCorps) type volunteer organization for the library.
Regarding Como Park, a number of people proposed charging for parking within the park which does not charge admission, but accepts voluntary donations. It was suggested that construction of the proposed new Como Park swimming pool/ waterpark be postponed for awhile.
Several ideas about taxes were brought up, including imposing a city income tax, which would require action by the state legislature. Stark said that beyond the property tax and fees for service everything else would have to have authority from the state.
Stark told the crowd that he and his staff would compile the ideas and bring them to his colleagues on the City Council for consideration.
At the end of the meeting one man drew applause when he said , “ All expenditures are not created equal.. it may be politically easy to cut across the board,” but he added that should not be the way to go.
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.