Thanks to The North 40 Tavern for their support. A north woods tavern somewhere in the middle of a big city. They regularly rotate tap beers, so stop in to see what’s currently flowing.
In the West St. Paul municipal election this year the mayor and three City Council members are on the ballot. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the general election on November 8. See our 2022 voter’s guide for more.
Previously we asked about creating positive change, top priorities, housing, public safety, and the city manager. This time we’re asking about the budget.
The preliminary budget includes a modest 6% increase in the property tax levy—equating to about $150 for the average home. Do you support this increase—why or why not? If you don’t support it, what should be cut? If you do support it, what additions to the budget are worth the extra expense?
Here are the candidates’ responses:
Candidates for Mayor
This is an uncontested race.
I support the current 2023 budget. These increases have been clearly laid out as a way to modestly move the City forward. We cannot allow ourselves to go backwards on the progress we’ve made.
Candidates for City Council Ward 1
This year the current proposal is for $19,792,622. We have to remember that a very large portion of the budget goes toward compensation to city employees and that all cities will be facing the reality of inflation where the costs of everything has been impacted. I believe our city staff is lean and productive for a city our size.
It is early in the budget process and the council has asked staff to reduce the 6% figure (which I support) without a noticeable impact on services. This would be welcome to our taxpayers who are also feeling the brunt of inflation. The right kinds of economic development will help with the annual levy by increasing our tax base.
We also need to pay attention to our debt and debt capacity. I would work to ensure that our capital budget plan is responsible and that any future bonding would not reduce our AA bond rating. Attention also must be paid to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) where two districts will be expiring in 2030 and 2031.
We can also increase our revenue to reduce our tax impact by accessing as many federal and state grant opportunities as possible. We can reduce costs by exploring every available option to share more services and partner with the county, neighboring communities, and school districts to help reduce expenses and increase revenue. Other jurisdictions are as motivated as we are to reduce costs to the taxpayer so cooperative efforts would seem feasible.
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson
Expand the bus transportation by adding more stops and relocating stops to make them safe and accessible.
Candidates for City Council Ward 2
This is an uncontested race.
John Justen did not respond to our questionnaire.
Candidates for City Council Ward 3
I can support the increase, especially after knowing our increase was less than what neighboring cities were considering at the time it was presented to us. And while it’s still the lowest levy increase we’ve seen in the past few years, the tax bill itself is going up due to the property values assigned by Dakota County. However, I am hoping we can find a way to lower it even more without losing things that are necessary to continue moving our city forward. If there are things scheduled for 2023 that might make sense to wait on due to other funding opportunities, I would want to consider cutting those things first, like holiday lights on Robert Street as an example.
Most of the proposed changes directly impacting the levy were in support of our strategic priorities—quality infrastructure, safe community, stable workforce, expanded communication, and financial sustainability. These are important things we should continue funding in order to have our basic needs taken care of efficiently and effectively. If we start pushing these things off too far into the future, we run the risk of needing to invest even more money which then turns into a higher increase in everyone’s property tax levy. I want to make sure we can avoid that.
Jake Nelson has dropped out of the race and did not participate in our questionnaire, but will still appear on the ballot.
Vote on November 8
The general election is on Tuesday, November 8. Learn more about where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices.
See our 2022 voter’s guide for more on the candidates and other races.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to our questions.
This local election coverage only happens thanks to the support of our members. Consider joining West St. Paul Reader to ensure local election coverage continues. Membership starts at just $3 per month.
Is it me or did “Kaejae” answer a question that wasn’t asked?