Transition away from NRP targeted for end of 2010

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December 21, 2009 // UPDATED 10:17 am - December 21, 2009
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
A date has been set for the long-anticipated transition of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program’s (NRP) administrative functions to the city’s new Neighborhood and Community Relations Department (NCR).

The City Council on Dec. 18 unanimously approved a motion directing staff to make the conversion by Dec. 31, 2010, a date even Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), who drafted the direction, admitted was lofty.

“I know this is an aggressive schedule. I know that,” Lilligren said at a joint meeting of the Community Development and Ways and Means committees on Dec. 17. “But I think that shows the council’s interest anyway in making sure that we’re moving as quickly as possible and that we’re using the very, very precious NRP dollars as well as possible.”

NRP, developed through legislative action in 1990 and advised by a group of elected and appointed community leaders called the NRP Policy Board, is a system of neighborhood funding that has funneled millions of dollars from tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts into community-developed initiatives during the past two decades. But further legislation in 2001 destabilized the program and prompted the city to develop a department for neighborhood engagement and funding — the NCR, which is advised by a new group of elected and appointed community leaders called the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Committee. The new program will administer funds from a different set of TIF districts, which the council recently targeted for recertification.

But much of NRP’s existing funds have yet to be distributed to neighborhoods, and it could be several years before the money is dried up completely, said Bob Miller, NRP’s director. Until that happens, he added, state statute requires the Policy Board to oversee the distribution of funds.

Miller said making the transition to the NCR was in everyone’s best interest and that he would work to make it happen, but he strongly doubted that the proposed Dec. 31 transition deadline could be remotely met.

He likened the situation to moving passengers from an old, but still seaworthy, ship to a new one that wasn’t finished yet.

“There’s a point in time in which that makes sense,” Miller said. “That point in time is after you’ve built the ship, after you’ve made sure that it sails and that it’s going to survive. You certainly don’t want to try to take your passengers from the Queen Elizabeth and put them on the Titanic.”

David Rubedor, who oversees the NCR, said the new department and NRP might seem at odds at times but that they are working toward the same goals. He said he thought it was good to have a date to work toward, but he expected NRP to continue to have some sort of administrative capacity beyond 2010 and perhaps beyond 2011 — even though the program is supposed to be completely dissolved by then.   

“The complexity of this is that NRP’s activities are starting to drop off and our activities are starting to ramp up,” Rubedor said. “And somewhere in between, the points cross.”

The council on Dec. 18 also approved an about $1.3 million administrative budget for NRP. The joint committee meeting held the previous day was organized to ask Miller questions about the budget after he failed to attend a meeting on the topic a week earlier.

Among the questions asked was one from Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) about where the dollars were going.

“Is this money that could go to neighborhoods? And if so, what are we doing to make sure less of it goes to administration and more of it goes to neighborhoods?” Goodman asked.

Miller said the funding could go directly to neighborhoods, but it would come at the cost of critical staff support that’s needed for the money’s distribution, neighborhood audit services and other functions essential to NRP implementation. He said he has cut his staff 72 percent since 1995 and is running as trim as he can.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.