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Minneapolis committee work to shape final city budget begins today

The process started Sept. 12 when Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak presented his proposed 2012 city budget.

Since then, there have been 32 hearings, department by department, to discuss the impact of that budget on services and staff workload.

Up to this point, there have been no cuts or increases to the mayor’s proposal, but that’s about to change.

Starting today and likely running into Wednesday evening, the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee will have its first opportunity to make changes.

As committee chair, Betsy Hodges gets to go first. She will start with technical amendments offered to correct errors or add new information. Then she will move on to policy amendments.

They know what I’m doing. They know what’s coming from me,” said Hodges, who has shared her thoughts with committee members but isn’t ready to share with everyone else. “There are always some surprises.”

She expects the mayor to be in the chambers for some of the committee discussion, as he has been during the individual department hearings.

“He’s been very respectful of letting council members do council member work.” Hodges adds.

She said she hears a lot of talk about the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network, which has been cut by $250,000, or 31 percent, in the mayor’s budget. The program provides access to media production equipment and training.

“We’ll see what happens,” says Hodges.

She also mentions proposed cuts in the Police Department budget that would eliminate 12 jobs in the Community Engagement Program that would save $1.16 million. The program puts crime prevention officers and civilians on the street, an effort that some council members want to keep.

Council Member Meg Tuthill is also interested in the two programs and also concerned about proposed cuts for programs dealing with domestic abuse. As a committee member, she knows there isn’t much available money to move from one program to the next.

“If you want something changed, you have to find the money,” says Tuthill, adding, “Everybody knows we have no money.”

She, too, is interested in MTN programming and expects it to be something council members would like to fund. “Where the money will come from for them I don’t know,” she says.

“People have been very respectful,” Tuthill says of her colleagues, saying the arguments she is hearing are strong and well researched.  “I’m quite impresses with this crowd.”

The work of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee members is not the end of the budget process.

On Dec. 14,there is a 6:05 p.m. public hearing in Room 317 of City Hal, followed by a City Council meeting on the budget.

Fire Department overtime
Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson was back in front of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee on Monday in another attempt to explain sick leave and hire-back policies in his department.  Previous appearances before the committee revealed a larger number of people calling in sick during the summer and on weekends than at other times.

Those calling in sick are more likely to be replaced by captains, rather than firefighters, who are paid at a much lower rate.

This time he didn’t get very far into his presentation when Chair Hodges noticed his numbers didn’t add up properly. “It just isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison,” she said.

Jackson was asked to meet with Hodges and return Dec. 15.

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