Civic beat: Property tax cap set at 11.3 percent for 2010 budget

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September 28, 2009 // UPDATED 9:17 am - September 28, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
The limit on increases in the city’s property tax levy for 2010 has been set at 11.3 percent. That all but guarantees an 11.3 percent hike will occur, according to one City Council member.

The limit, first proposed by Mayor R.T. Rybak, was approved in a 3-2 vote by the Board of Estimate and Taxation on Sept. 9. Board members Paul Ostrow, the 1st Ward City Council member, and independently elected Carol Becker dissented, while Bob Fine, the 6th District commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, abstained.

An 11.3 percent increase is expected to produce an additional $27.5 million for the city and $1.9 million for the Park Board. Rybak, who also sits on the taxation board, has said the average home would feel an about 6.6 percent increase.

Because of cuts to local-government aid, the city would make cuts to each of its departments even with an 11.3 percent increase.

Ostrow said that slicing should go deeper, proposing to instead cap the increase at 9.5 percent. That would have amounted to about $3.7 million and $300,000 less for the city and the Park Board, respectively.

“All of these things are difficult, but they are achievable,” Ostrow said. “… The public deserves, needs to see us going the extra mile.”

But Rybak challenged whether the 9.5 percent figure had been properly vetted. The mayor said he first saw Ostrow’s proposal just hours before the meeting and that it could add an extra burden on taxpayers in later years. Also, while Rybak’s budget features proposals for departmental cuts, Ostrow didn’t provide solutions to the additional $3.7 million gap.

“We don’t know what we are cutting,” Rybak said.

The proposal failed 4-1. Ostrow was the sole supporter; Fine abstained.

The City Council and the Park Board will now go through their respective budget-setting processes. When the budgets are approved Dec. 7, the boards could choose to set their tax levies below the cap. Ostrow said he isn’t convinced they will.

“We will go to the maximum levy,” he said. “We do it every time.”

Meanwhile, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners has set a 4.95 percent limit on its 2010 property tax levy increase. It will approve the county’s budget on Dec. 15.


Stay home now,  get vaccinated in October

The City Council was recently updated on Minneapolis’ preparedness for dealing with the H1N1 influenza virus.

Key for everybody remains covering coughs, washing hands and staying home when sick, but health commissioner Gretchen Musicant said a vaccination is coming. An exact arrival date is not yet known, but “we have a general October kind of feeling,” Musicant said.

Once it arrives, the Centers for Disease Control’s priority guidelines are expected to be followed. First on the list are pregnant women, caregivers of children younger than 6 months and emergency medical personnel. Other priority groups include anybody from age 6 months to 24 years and 25- to 60-year-olds with preexisting medical conditions.

The vaccine will be provided at no cost to local governments; however, distribution will be handled through the same channels that handle season flu vaccines. That means the city won’t be in charge.

Musicant said people who experienced the H1N1 strain earlier this year should still consider getting the vaccine once it arrives. The same goes for people who already have gotten their seasonal flu shot, which is available now.


Council postpones decision on Stone Arch Apartments

The City Council postponed deciding the fate of the proposed second phase of Stone Arch Apartments until its first meeting in October.

The developers of the project, which would be built atop a parking lot across Main Street from the current Stone Arch Apartments, are appealing a Planning Commission decision to deny a variance that would let them construct a 79-unit building. Residents of the surrounding Marcy Holmes neighborhood have fought any plans for the parcel at 600 Main St. because they hope it someday will be parkland.

The zoning committee forwarded the issue to the full council without a recommendation. The council’s meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 2 in City Hall’s council chambers, 350 S. 5th St.