Ramsey County will create 40 new full-time positions focused on violence prevention and expanding who responds to 911 calls.
The County Board on Tuesday approved the creation of the new roles — which will include social workers, community health responders and mediators — as well as its annual operating budget and tax levy.
“The personnel increase will support the effort to create and deliver a proactive community driven response that shifts the responsibility for violence prevention and safety from being primarily the responsibility of law enforcement to a partnership involving those who are most impacted by violence in the community,” according to meeting documents.
The new positions will cost the county $4.2 million a year. County leaders have allocated $16 million of federal COVID-19 aid to violence prevention, which will fund those positions through 2024. The county received $108 million through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The new jobs include 20 social workers, eight 911 telecommunicators, four community mediators, two community health responders, a violence prevention coordinator and planning staff and supervisors.
Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo called it a “historic investment in mental health and public safety.”
This fall, county staff unveiled a plan to have 911 operators dispatch social and mental health workers, child welfare staff and nonprofit employees to crisis calls, in what would be one of the most dramatic transformations of the emergency call system since its inception half a century ago.
The new staff will also bolster the county’s Healing Streets program, which is focused on community intervention and prevention of group and gun violence. Program staff work closely with community members affected by gun violence.
Kathy Hedin, Ramsey County deputy county manager of health and wellness, said community members are asking for these changes — especially when they dial 911.
“What we hear from our community is they are not getting everything they need when they contact us for support,” she said. “They are asking for more.”
Hedin said Ramsey County social workers are already embedded with St. Paul and Maplewood police departments, and it’s working.
“We are finding that co-response model, as well as having … mental health resources and social worker resources, has been really, really necessary and very positive for that community response,” she said.
The Board also unanimously approved a two-year budget of $774 million in 2022 and $783 million in 2023. That represents a 3.4 % increase in 2022 and a 1.2 % increase from 2022 to 2023.
“Faced with the realities of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic, this budget sustains and scales the transformative investments we committed to beginning in 2020-2021,” County Board Chair Toni Carter said in a written statement. “We continue prioritizing a Residents First approach to improve service delivery with a focus on systems reform, racial equity and community engagement. I extend our thanks to all residents, businesses and other stakeholders who shared their valuable feedback with us throughout this process.”
Property taxes fund about 43% of the county’s budget. The levy — the total amount the county collects in taxes — will increase 1.55% in 2022.
For the first time, commissioners also approved an $11.1 million property tax for the Housing and Redevelopment Authority to fund affordable housing and priorities of the county’s Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan. Prior to passage, Ramsey County had been the only metro-area county not to utilize that taxing authority.