Council adopts 2017 budget

$1.3-billion budget includes controversial funding for 15 new police officers

The Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday approved Mayor Betsy Hodges’ $1.3-billion 2017 city budget.

The budget includes more than $1.3 million in new spending to hire 15 additional police officers, an item opposed by dozens who testified during two public hearings on the budget. The budget also includes $400,000 to hire five additional full-time firefighters.

The 2017 budget represents a 7.7-percent increase ($94.7 million) over the 2016 budget. It comes with a 5.5-percent increase in the city’s property tax levy compared to 2016, which hikes property taxes $66 on a home at the city’s median value of $203,000.

The 2017 budget is the first since the city’s landmark agreement with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to invest in roads and park maintenance. The $800-million, 20-year plan relies heavily on property taxes as a funding source, and in 2017 will produce about $3 million for park operations.

The budget also adds three fulltime city employees who will work closely with the small business community and help business owners navigate city processes.

But it was the funding for the Minneapolis Police Department that drew the most scrutiny from members of the public who spoke in front of the council. Many expressed concerns about police violence how law enforcement interacts with communities of color, and urged the council to invest the money in alternatives to policing.

“Spend the money on alternative programs to help youth, help the mentally ill, things that will actually change the community,” said South Minneapolis resident Peter Zeftel, who testified at a Nov. 30 public hearing on the budget. Of the more than 40 people who spoke that night, about three-quarters spoke against the new funding for officers.

Hodges insisted her budget, which included more than $1 million for community-based public safety strategies, took a balanced approach to public safety. The budget also puts $1 million into the department’s Community Service Officer program, a strategy intended to recruit more people of color to the force, and sets aside $200,000 for mental health co-responders, who in a pilot program will be paired with officers.

“Tonight, we chose to make increased investments in partnerships with community that will build public safety and increased investments in the police department that will build public trust,” Hodges said in a statement.

During a budget markup meeting, council members Cam Gordon, Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender attempted to shift some of the $1.3 million for the 15 new police officers into initiatives to combat domestic abuse and youth violence, but a majority of the council voted down their amendment.

“It’s ridiculous to talk about cutting police officers in this budget,” said Council President Barb Johnson, who noted the force has 100 fewer officers than in 2009 even though the city’s population has increased since then. Longer response times are putting people in danger, Johnson said.

“Our no. 1 job in the City of Minneapolis is to make it safe,” said Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman, who added that crime “affects everything else we’re doing.”

After lobbying from the local business community, the council increased the funding for the “navigators” who will work with small business owners on communication, education and licensing issues. Hodges’ budget called for one fulltime position, but that was increased to three.

Common Roots Cafe owner Danny Schwartzman said there was little guidance available to him as he navigated a “confusing” city process to open his Wedge-neighborhood restaurant nearly a decade ago. Schwartzman said he was able to exploit key connections to get help and learn the right questions to ask, but not all would-be small business owners are so lucky.

“Right now, large businesses and people who are connected get the support they need,” he said.