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Evans presents his 'prosperity budget' for next year and highlights tax rate decrease

Mayor Malik Evans gestures with his hands behind a podium surrounded by flowers
Max Schulte
During the 2023 State of the City, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans emphasized the need for city residents to feel hope about their future.

What Mayor Malik Evans calls his “prosperity budget” offers little in the way of surprise investments or cuts, but rather it takes what he said is a measured approach to municipal spending.

The proposed $697 million spending package marks a 1.4% increase from the previous year while keeping flat the overall amount of revenue raised through property taxes, known as the tax levy.

Despite massive rises in residential assessments, the estimated city tax rate will decrease by over $6, to $11.11 from $17.84. That's a roughly 38% drop.

"I'm calling this a prosperity budget, but you can't have prosperity if you don't have equity, which is why equity remains a top priority in our budget," Evans said during his budget address Friday in Council chambers at City Hall. "The property reassessment makes the city tax rate more equitable."

The rate decrease means that most homeowners would see a rise in their tax bill only if their assessment increased by more than 60%, according to city officials. While the total assessed value of residential houses went up 68%, commercial assessments increased by about 35%.

Find out how your tax bill will change

After property values soared in Rochester, the city is planning to reduce the tax rate and hold total collections flat. Those who had their property assessment increase by less than 60% would see a drop in their tax bill. How did it affect you?

Lookup your assessment here, then enter your old assessed value and your new value and click the Calculate button to find out.

A drop in tax rate of 38% will allow for any home assessment increased by less than 60% will see a decrease in its city property tax bill.

The budget does include some key investments into ongoing programs, including the Buy the Block homeownership program, its roof repair program, the Office of Violence Prevention, and the Maplewood Nature Center.

"It's a budget that strikes a critical balance as Rochester enters a new era of growth and prosperity," Evans said. "It doesn't have any reductions in programs or services, and it continues to make strategic investments to further drive Rochester's growing prosperity."

New positions, new approaches

The new budget includes the addition of some notable new jobs.

For example, the city is seeking to hire a director of the Office of Violence Prevention, which is part of the Mayor's Office. That person would oversee programs like Pathways to Peace and Advance Peace. The Office of Violence Prevention has been led by former Pathways leader Victor Saunders.

“Adding this position would allow Victor to serve more of an advisory role to the mayor,” said Budget Director Suzanne Warren. “This position would actually lead the office of violence prevention.”

Warren also said the mayor's budget would create a chief data officer position.

“There’s a lot of things to be happy about,” Warren said. “As the mayor put forth, it’s fostering prosperity for everyone.”

Warren highlighted the planned creation of a chief data officer position as key to future city planning. That staff member would be tasked with standardizing data management across all 16 city departments. Currently, each department collects data metrics in its own way using its own systems, often involving third-party contractors.

The chief data officer would be responsible for ensuring the city is working with objective, singular data in its decision-making.

“A lot of different departments are getting different data,” said city spokesperson Barbara Pierce. “You can’t compare the data this department’s getting with the data this department’s getting because they’re getting it in different ways.”

The budget will also convert 11 "less-than-full-time" city positions to full-time jobs. Most of those jobs are in security.

Police, PIC, and PAB

Allocations for most of the city’s public safety initiatives are set to remain flat in the 2025 budget proposal.

For example, it budgets about $110 million for the Rochester Police Department, roughly the same as last year’s approved budget. That figure, however, is likely to change in the future.

The city is once again at the collective bargaining table with the Rochester Police Locust Club union after signing a contract last year that included an $18 million interest arbitration award.

“We would love to have a contract agreed to by July 1, but it will not be reflected in this budget,” Warren said. “So, from a year-to-year perspective, you’re not really seeing any changes in wages.”

Similarly flat is the budget for the Rochester Police Accountability Board, which saw a $1.7 million cut last year. Spending for the police-alternative Person In Crisis Team, which has a roster of 14 social workers, would also remain flat under the proposal.

However, the city is planning to explore a new “alternative first-response model” by working with the nonprofit Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). The idea is to develop an alternative to sending police for certain calls which primarily require little more than a written report.

However, Warren wasn't clear about what sort of calls the effort would cover, adding that city officials still need to negotiate with the Locust Club to hammer out details.

Investment in recreation

Parks and recreation serve as hallmarks of this year’s budget.

For example, the budget fully funds construction of the long-awaited second and third phases of the Roc City Skatepark. That project will add a more street-skating-oriented portion to the park, located beneath the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge. It would also add restrooms, concessions, and event spaces.

That project is expected to break ground in late 2024 or early 2025.

The city has set in motion a $5.5 million plan to breathe new life into Maplewood Park

Meanwhile, the city plans to move forward this year with renovations to the Maplewood Park Nature Center and playground. That project was previously awarded $5.3 million of its $5.5 million estimated cost through the federal American Rescue Plan Act in 2022. The city plans to move forward on the renovations this year.

“It’s a great thing to be able to bring nature to kids in the middle of the city,” Warren said.

The budget still pends review and approval by Rochester City Council. If approved, the budget would go into effect July 1.

Includes reporting by Deputy Editor Jeremy Moule.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.