Civic beat :: Rybak's budget

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April 26, 2010
By: Jake Weyer and Cristof Traudes
Jake Weyer and Cristof Traudes
Rybak’s budget: Cut $9.2 million without layoffs

Mayor R.T. Rybak paused for applause April 8 after announcing in City Council chambers that his revised 2010 budget, drafted after another $9.2 million reduction in state aid, would not require any layoffs.

“Our city employees have withstood a tremendous amount of transition and pain because of these state aid cuts, and we deeply appreciate their work,” Rybak said.

The most recent aid cut comes on top of a $21 million reduction made last year. Gov. Tim Pawlenty initially proposed the latest cut to be $29 million, but the Legislature softened the blow.

Minneapolis already has slashed more than $30 million from its budget since December 2008, Rybak said, but has been able to endure by maintaining reasonable reserves, planning ahead, setting clear priorities and taking action.

“So we face a real tough challenge. That’s the bad news,” Rybak said. “But the good news is that we have been prepared.”

Council members last year moved $4.5 million into a contingency fund to prepare for this year’s cuts. The city also has $9.5 million in one-time revenue from tax-increment financing districts and additional budget reductions.

To fill the new budget hole, Rybak proposed using about a third of the city’s one-time funds, as well as the entirety of the contingency fund and about $1 million in additional cuts. The spending reductions would include eliminating vacant positions, trimming supplies, technology and training, and finding more efficient ways to do business.

Rybak further proposed using another $2.8 million from the one-time funds to avoid pension debt, while the final $3.7 million in one-time funds would be used for what he called innovative efforts, including completion of the city’s wireless network, filling and seal-coating potholes, improving business processes, new technology and a retirement incentive. The incentive, he said, would be aimed at getting emerging young professionals into the city’s ranks — the people who have been the target of layoffs in recent years.

“There is going to be some pain,” Rybak said of his plan. “But it’s going to accomplish our main goals.”

Rybak said the city’s financial future is very much linked to the state, and he warned of tougher times to come. He also took a moment to address criticism of the city’s handling of its budget, noting that state spending has increased 56 percent since 2001, while city spending has increased 7 percent.

He thanked City Council members and staff for their efforts during the tough times.

“This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” Rybak said. “But it is being done with the same long-term fiscal stewardship that has gotten us into this good position.”

The council is expected to vote on the new budget at its April 30 meeting.

Looking ahead to 2011 — the budget for which should be unveiled around summer’s end — Rybak said the city’s challenges will include reducing pension debt, rising healthcare costs, growing demands on infrastructure and a “critical need to dramatically lower property taxes.”


Park Board finds funding to buy lumberyard site

Pieces are falling into place for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to purchase a large property along the Mississippi River.

The so-called Scherer Bros. purchase, named for the company that currently owns and operates at the location, is bringing together the board with a number of other public entities, including the Metropolitan Council. About $1.7 million in council funds will cover much of the purchase’s $2.4 million price tag, while about $700,000 the board received in compensation after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse will cover the rest.

The board already has made a $400,000 earnest money down payment.

At an April 7 board meeting, parks planner Judd Rietkerk said the property has been tested for sediments, which resulted in both good and bad news.

“We found some things we thought we would find,” he said, “and we didn’t find some things we thought we would find.”

Among the things found: heavy metals, including lead. Further testing on that is on-going, Rietkerk said.

What wasn’t found was any trace of petroleum sediments.

“We were very surprised by that,” he said.

The site, just north of Boom Island, is about 14 acres and could eventually become open space, commissioners have said. Currently, it’s largely industrial, covered by a parking lot and several buildings.


HCMC cutting  $1 million from bills

Hennepin County Medical Center is set for upgrades that could save it as much as $1 million each year in operations.

The recommissioning project, which itself will cost about $1.1 million, is being covered by a federal grant. It will involve work to six of the center’s buildings, including its parking ramp, and ultimately greatly reduce the operating cost of electricity, steam and chilled water.

By the numbers

How much is $9.2 million?

104 police officers

108 firefighters

$1.1 million more than the cost of the city’s 911 call center

One year of filling potholes

Three years of streetlight electricity

One winter of snowplowing and sanding

Source: City of Minneapolis