Civic beat : Proposed 2010 budget: All city departments, neighborhoods take hits

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August 17, 2009 // UPDATED 8:42 am - August 17, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Financial duress shows in Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposed 2010 city budget, unveiled Aug. 13.

Prepared in the wake of a recession, tens of millions of dollars lost in state aid and expectations of steep increases in pension fund payments, the budget proposes a 6.6 percent property tax increase while making cuts to every city department and previously suggested neighborhood funding. But it also finds room for stability, keeping money for street repairs at current levels and increasing to $4.3 million the city’s investment in its Great Streets local
business program.

Almost $100 million lighter than the 2009 revised budget approved in February, the 2010 budget would keep its focus on creating jobs. Rybak wants to double to $1.2 million what the city spends on its two workforce centers, which he said helped 60,000 people in 2008 brush up on their résumés and job skills.

Those centers are paid for mostly through grants and one-time payments; they don’t affect the general fund, which covers basic services. That fund is expected to see a $3 million drop in revenue from the 2009 amended budget, down to $371 million. Every city department would take a hit, although police and fire would see the smallest decreases.

A breakdown of general fund spending shows the Police Department’s share in 2010 would increase to 37.7 percent and the Fire Department’s to 15.8 percent, up from 34 percent and 14 percent in 2009, respectively.

Helping to lower costs would be many relatively small actions, including decreasing the Police Department’s fleet of cars by 15 (that would save about $370,000, Rybak said), consolidating cell phone plans (saves $201,000) and eliminating a Health Department newsletter (saves $2,000).

The city also would eliminate 226 jobs. It’s unclear exactly how many of those would result in layoffs — when in February the city got rid of 63 positions, just four people were laid off. Rybak also proposed developing a voluntary leave program, an idea he said stemmed from city employees’ own suggestions.

Notably different from last year, Rybak was less buoyant when discussing funding for neighborhood revitalization. In 2008, he presented a plan to spend about $8 million a year over the next 10 years to continue efforts similar to the near-its-end Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

“The world has changed (since then),” he said Aug. 13. “We can simply no longer afford to do that.”

His proposal would limit neighborhood spending to $6.5 million.

Meanwhile, Rybak’s proposed property tax increase for 2010 is 11.3 percent, which translates to an about 6.6 percent increase for the average Minneapolis home. That’s a little less than what Rybak proposed last fall, when he suggested a 6.86 increase.

Rybak is in the midst of a second reelection bid, but he also is widely expected to enter the 2010 governor’s race. Before finishing his budget presentation, he made sure to take a few shots at the way the state has handled its finances. Responding to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s repeated criticisms of Minneapolis’ spending decisions, Rybak said the city doesn’t need a lecture from someone who has “pushed the state into fiscal chaos.”

“We will continue to lead the way within the city of Minneapolis,” Rybak said.

The budget next moves to the City Council’s budget committee, which will begin hearings in September.

The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on Dec. 7.

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Council, mayor decide against streetlight fee

One idea noticeably absent from Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposed 2010 budget is a street-lighting fee.

Rybak had introduced the subject while revising the 2009 budget as a way to plug a funding gap in the Public Works Department. In recent months, public meetings were held to see what citizens thought about such a fee, which would have cost about $20 per year for an average single-family home. The response was largely negative; meetings, phone calls and a public hearing were almost entirely cold to the idea.

Rybak said in his 2010 budget presentation that he’d decided to scrap the fee idea. It wouldn’t help a long-term goal of reducing the growth of property taxes, he said. The City Council followed suit, scrapping the street-lighting fee idea on the same day it could have approved it.