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St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter sees the transformation of the former Ford site into the Highland Bridge development as a symbol of his vision for the capital city: vibrant, sustainable and innovative.

"Some of us are moved by a sense of nostalgia and want to figure out how to get St. Paul back to what it was like when we grew up," the mayor said during his nearly hourlong State of the City address at the Oxford Community Center on Tuesday. "I wholeheartedly believe … that our biggest and brightest days for St. Paul are in front of us."

In the past, Carter — who took office in 2018 — has used the annual speech to unveil new programs and policies. But this year's address was largely a victory lap, with Carter highlighting recent accomplishments as more than half the City Council prepares to step down at the end of the year.

Here are the key takeaways.

Sales tax proposal

Carter used the podium to make yet another pitch for St. Paul's 1% local sales tax proposal, which would collect nearly $1 billion for street and park maintenance over 20 years. To pass, the tax would need to be approved by the Legislature and St. Paul voters — neither of which are done deals.

Minnesota House DFLers, some of whom have cited concerns about the proliferation of local sales taxes, did not include the more than two-dozen requests from local governments in their sweeping tax plan unveiled Monday. They did include a $30 million grant to St. Paul for street improvements, which Carter sees as acknowledgment that the city's streets deserve outside funding, he said in an interview after the address. He added that he is hopeful that state Senate leaders will include the proposal in their tax bill.

Public safety

Carter started his speech by honoring three city employees who helped a critically wounded teenager who was shot outside the Oxford Community Center in January.

Calling the shooting "one of the most painful, heartbreaking events I've had to endure as your mayor," Carter highlighted a proposed ordinance that would require firearms to be stored separately from ammunition. He also said state and local leaders are continuing to discuss legislation that would give cities the power to ban guns at libraries and rec centers.

The mayor praised St. Paul's first responders while highlighting some of his community-first public safety initiatives, which he said have produced promising data since a funding infusion last summer.

"We all know that how we respond in the moments after something terrible happens is only part of the solution," Carter said.

Help for residents

Carter said the city has received more than 400 applications for its newly launched Inheritance Fund, which will provide forgivable loans for down payment assistance or home rehabs to former residents of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood and their descendants.

He also highlighted CollegeBound, a program to start a $50 college savings account for every child born in the city, as well as the guaranteed income pilots that will be featured in a film premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in June.

Shout-outs to state and federal Democrats

Noting that many of the city's recent initiatives were funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act, Carter lauded President Joe Biden's administration for its efforts to help cities recover from the pandemic. He also gave a shout-out to what he called the DFL trifecta at the State Capitol for passing laws to codify abortion rights, require schools to provide free lunches and allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

City Council shake-up

With all seven City Council seats on the ballot this fall and just three members seeking re-election, Carter described this year as an "opportunity to renew our covenant with our government." He gave a special acknowledgment to Council President Amy Brendmoen, who is stepping down after 12 years representing St. Paul's Fifth Ward.

Meanwhile …

Members of AFSCME, which represents about 1,000 city employees, picketed outside the community center during their lunch hour. Jennifer Guertin, president of the union's clerical chapter, said contract negotiations are dragging out more than any other time in her 20-some years of experience, with sticking points over wages and the civil service rules.

In an interview, Carter said that with rising inflation, "We understand why they're doing that."

"With payroll being the vast majority of our city budget, any increase, we have to figure out how to pay for it over time," he said.