City Hall update: Budget decision weighs heavily on crime workers, community TV

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December 19, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
City Council members made a few late changes to Mayor R.T. Rybak’s 2012 budget that would save the jobs of four crime prevention specialists and restore $100,000 in funding for the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network.

The changes were proposed at the city’s Ways and Means/Budget meetings in early December. The entire budget was scheduled for final approval on Dec. 14, which was after this edition of The Journal went to press.

Council members did not propose any changes to Rybak’s flat tax levy.

They did, however, dip into Minneapolis Police Department savings to preserve four civilian police workers tasked with recruiting and training block clubs, compiling crime data for the community, sending out crime alerts and responding to problematic properties.

The budget would reduce the number of sworn officers in the Police Department by 10, bringing the total down to 843. In 2008, the department employed 916 sworn officers. Those reductions would be handled through attrition, not layoffs.

Originally facing a $250,000 cut — or 31 percent of its budget — council members proposed reducing the cut to Minneapolis Telecommunications Network by $100,000.

MTN supporters made a big push at City Hall on Dec. 7 to save funding.

MTN is broadcast on channels 16, 17 and 75 to 74,000 Comcast subscribers in Minneapolis. It aired 3,500 programs in 2010, including 230 in Somali, 32 in Chinese, 17 in Spanish and 16 in Oromo, according to MTN Executive Director Pam Colby.

City looking to require taxis to install credit card machines

City Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9) says that if taxicabs want to do business in Minneapolis, they had better install credit card machines and they better not try to pass card fees along to customers.

The only question he still has is whether the city can ensure that cab companies don’t pass credit card charges onto drivers, many of whom make precious little as the fares they can charge are already regulated by the city.

At a Nov. 28 meeting, Schiff asked city attorneys to find out if it’s in the city’s power to require that cab companies not pass the credit card charges onto drivers. The city’s Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee will meet to discuss Schiff’s ordinance amendment again on Jan. 5.

The amendment would not only require that credit card machines be installed, but also that cab drivers would have to accept a credit card as a form of payment.

At a public hearing on Nov. 28, committee members got an earful from cab company owners.

“Why aren’t you forcing every business in Minneapolis to take credit cards?” asked Zack Williams, the owner of Rainbow Taxi.

Williams said he has already installed credit card machines in his taxis, and drunken passengers have broken the devices. He said his company passes credit card fees along to drivers, because he couldn’t afford to pay them himself anymore.

Cab fares in Minneapolis are currently capped at $2.50 per mile. City staff, under an ordinance passed in May 2009, can adjust taxi rates each year based on a cost index of fuel, repairs, insurance, parts, equipment and the general Consumer Price Index.  

Credit card machines aren’t required in St. Paul or Bloomington. They are required in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and St. Louis.

Nearly 800 taxicabs are licensed in Minneapolis, employing almost 1,500 drivers.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.