2010 city budget keeps tax increase to 2.2 percent, Civil Rights intact

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December 7, 2009 // UPDATED 10:09 am - December 9, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
After almost 20 hours of mark-ups — including two late nights for City Council members — the city has a budget for 2010.

As expected, it’s about $100 million lighter than the revised 2009 budget, making cuts to every department in the city. But it’s also not expected to last long in its current form, with the state facing another steep deficit.

Council members largely followed early proposals from Mayor R.T. Rybak to keep a focus on creating jobs, increasing spending on the city’s two workforce centers and making a slew of small cuts that together add up (such as eliminating a Health Department newsletter to save $2,000).

But major cuts were made, too, a situation that created an occasionally emotional budget adoption meeting on Dec. 7. More than two dozen residents and city employees made pleas to the City Council during more than an hour of public hearings, some to save programs, others to save their own jobs.

Below are highlights of the newly adopted budget, which was approved 12–1 by the council. (Only Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) dissented.)

Property taxes

As a result of a recent court ruling, the city has less obligations for pension payouts than projected in August, when Rybak proposed his version of the budget. The decrease, about $10 million, translates to an about 4 percent decrease from what had been pitched as an 11.3 percent property tax increase for 2010.

The average homeowner, originally expected to see a 6.6 percent property tax hike, will instead experience a 2.2 percent increase.

Public safety

The Minneapolis Police Department will lay off 25 sworn officers — including 19 recruits — and 31 non-sworn positions. Some of the 25 could be rehired were the city to receive a federal grant it’s seeking.

Community crime-prevention specialists, all of whom had been marked by police Chief Tim Dolan for elimination, were largely saved through reallocations of grant money, while the mounted patrol division, also marked for elimination, was retained but could see its focus changed somewhat.

For more on the police changes, click here.

The Minneapolis Fire Department, meanwhile, isn’t expected to lay off anyone.

Civil rights

The most controversial item on the council’s docket the night it approved the budget was a direction proposed by Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) — and earlier approved by the budget committee — to reorganize the Civil Rights Department’s Complaint Investigation Division, ending its backlog of cases and temporarily giving new ones to the state Department of Human Rights while the city studies nationwide best practices for civil rights departments. Several full-time civil rights investigators would have been laid off.

Hodges said it had not been an easy decision for her to make her proposal. But she added that the investigations division has had problems for decades that have never been fixed. While drastic, she said her proposal would make it a priority for the city to figure out what it really needs to do to ensure proper civil rights actions.

“If you do what you’ve always done,” she said, “you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten” — inadequate service.

At least a dozen speakers during the night’s public hearing disagreed, including two state representatives, Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden. Champion said the city should be concerned about the message it would send by, before even doing a study, taking complaints investigations away from city hands. They also said they were concerned about this sort of proposal coming up just months after a similar proposal from Rybak died after an uproar of complaints.

Several council members made passionate remarks against Hodges’ proposal. Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) proposed striking the direction from the budget, saying it would have been a step away from the city’s commitment to making the city home for people of all designations and orientations.

Ending racism, “we’re not going to get that by cutting from this department,” Lilligren said. “… I think it’s premature.”

Hodges, who was praised by all of her colleagues — including those opposing her direction — said her proposal was not an attempt to cut down on civil rights but instead a step to try to improve it.

Residents “deserve better than what they’ve been getting,” she said.

Council members voted 7–6 to strike Hodges’ direction from the budget. A proposal from Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) to use some of the city’s contingency fund to still pay for a study of best practices also failed.

311

Proposals for cuts to the city’s non-emergency call center bounced back and forth throughout budget mark-ups, yo-yoing 311’s 2010 hours back and forth. Ultimately, the council voted 11–2 to use $115,000 from the city’s contingency fund — usually saved for emergencies — to allow 311 to continue operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

State funding

Just days before the city adopted its budget, the state received news about the status of its current budget. It wasn’t good: There already is a $1.2 billion deficit for the current biennium.

It’s widely expected that, because Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he does not want to raise taxes, he will instead unallot more local-government aid. And although Pawlenty said he will not do that before the end of this year, it's like that if he does do so next year, the City Council will have to return to the budget drawing board.