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As Minneapolis council moves toward finalizing 2019 budget, members focus on housing, public safety issues

The public will have one last chance to chime in on the budget, at a hearing Wednesday evening, before the council votes on last-minute changes and makes it final.

Among the most significant budget amendments the council approved Friday was a $2 million boost to a fund that pays for repairs in delipidated housing complexes so that people can remain living in their homes.
MinnPost file photo by Jessica Lee

The Minneapolis City Council is set to finalize the city’s 2019 budget this week. The decision will come after months of deliberations with department leaders and Mayor Jacob Frey, who proposed a framework for the coming year’s spending back in August.

Council members can shift around money in that $1.55 billion budget proposal, and they targeted two key places for those changes: public safety and housing. Here is what they agreed to amend, and where the budget goes from here:

Police and public safety

Citing a “cultural shift” in how the city addresses public safety, council members passed a motion Friday morning that makes some changes from Frey’s proposed budget so that the number of Minneapolis Police Department’s officers on streets next year is likely to stay the same. (That means the mayor’s idea to move eight police officers currently in desk jobs to beat work, then backfill their office positions with civilians is no longer part of the plan.) The amendment also pumps more money toward alternative, community-led safety programs outside of MPD.

Here are the numbers: Frey’s budget proposal set aside $184.5 million for MPD next year, which is 2.8 percent higher than the 2018 budget. Much of that increase would go toward salary increases and other department costs, police officials have said. Council members agreed to cut the increase to 2.2 percent, meaning MPD would receive $1.1 million less than they would under the mayor’s plan.

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That money will now go to help create a new office — the “Office of Violence Prevention” — that uses civilian staff via the city’s health department. Council members also want to use the funds to expand the city’s pilot program that partners mental-health professionals with police officers to citywide; boost a project (known as Project LIFE) that aims to reduce shootings in north Minneapolis by targeting and intervening with potentially violent people; and support initiatives that help victims of domestic violence and people facing minor weapon charges.

Council President Lisa Bender believes the new investments will pay off in the long term. “Since I took office, we’ve added millions of dollars to traditional policing, and we seem to have to always … scrap at the last minute to try to find money to invest in these upstream strategies that we know are working.”

Not all council members agreed with the amendment, though. Lisa Goodman and Linea Palmisano, who represent much of downtown and southwest Minneapolis, respectively, voted against the change, arguing MPD needs the money to address the city’s growing public-safety concerns. The number of 911 calls is rising, for example, causing longer lag times for police officers to respond. Response times can reach as high as 42 minutes for some low-priority reports, which can include cases of theft or vandalism, according to data provided by the city.

The department’s investigative unit is also overburdened and understaffed, Deputy Chief of Investigations Erick Fors said. “That is a need we have been trying to fill as best we can, but it does impact greatly our operations in those units,” he told council members before the vote.

The amendment was an answer to community members who say MPD officers too often show racial bias and use excessive force in responding to 911 calls. Dozens of activists packed a public hearing Wednesday, emphasizing those issues and calling for new ways to fund safety prevention. “Let’s stop putting our money into a model that is built to kill us,” organizer Kandace Montgomery told council members.

When the council debated MPD’s budget two days later, officials confirmed social-media reports of what the mayor called a “racist display” at the police department’s precinct on the northside: a Christmas tree with ornaments including a Newport cigarette pack, Takis bag and Popeye’s Chicken paper cup. Two officers are on leave pending an investigation into the incident, the Star Tribune reported.

A few council members commented on the controversy to emphasize their support for shifting public-safety dollars. Among them was City Council Member Abdi Warsame, who said the incident “highlights the culture within MPD that many of us are against, many of us want to change and that has been resistant to change for a long time.”


From tax incentives for landlords to keep rents stable to emergency help, much of Frey’s proposal to put $40 million toward programs to lower the burden of housing costs remains unchanged.

Much of the money would go to creating new programs, the most expensive of which (at $3.3 million annually) is dubbed “Stable Homes, Stable Schools.” That initiative will help families of homeless children and teens within the Minneapolis Public School system pay rent bills or find shelter. “Research has shown even a single episode of homelessness has a significant negative impact on the students’ well-being as well as their academic experience and outcomes,” said MPS Superintendent Ed Graff to council members in expressing his “strong support” for the program.

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But on Friday, council members also moved more money ($500,000) into a pool to help renters facing eviction get legal representation. New York City created the first such fund last year, basing the change off research that shows tenants with attorneys fare better in housing court. Cities such as San Francisco and Philadelphia have followed NYC’s lead, too.

Council member Jeremiah Ellison, who represents parts of north Minneapolis, said the boost to help renters facing eviction “is a huge effort in the right direction,” but it will not cover the city’s need entirely. To give every renter a right to counsel in housing court, for example, Minneapolis would need to spend upwards of $4 or $5 million, he said.

Among the most significant budget amendments the council approved Friday was a $2 million boost to a fund that pays for repairs in dilapidated housing complexes so that people can remain living in their homes. Council members said they want to prioritize the fund, which this year had just $160,000, so that the city can move faster with construction and curb resident displacement. But they still need to establish details for the spending — including how, and to what extent, property owners facing violations will eventually pay for the repairs through taxes.

“We are now for the first time, in a long time, putting a focus on renters,” said Warsame, whose constituents are 80 percent renters.

Where things go from here

The public will have one last chance to chime in on the budget, at a hearing Wednesday evening, before the council votes on last-minute changes and makes it final.

The Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation has already increased the maximum for the city’s tax levy — or the total amount of property tax the city will collect — by $18.7 million, or 5.67 percent, which includes a recently-approved tax increase to generate new youth programs by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

According to the city, that means someone with a home value of $249,000 (which is slightly below the city’s median) will face an annual increase of about $88, or 6.7 percent, in their property taxes. Meanwhile, people with homes that did not increase in value this year will see a decrease in their bills, according to city budget director Micah Intermill. More information on property assessments and taxes is on the city’s website.