On Wednesday, the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils will host public hearings on their 2020 budgets — one of the last steps in the cities’ budgeting processes, both of which aim to address some of the Twin Cities’ most vexing issues: homelessness, opioid abuse and gun violence.
After the hearings, council members in both cities will have the opportunity to modify their spending plans before taking a final vote on the plans on Dec. 11.
Here are key takeaways from the budgets as they stand now and what officials in both cities are likely to highlight in the upcoming talks, from a controversial proposal to grow Minneapolis’ police force to St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed cuts for emergency services.
In Minneapolis: More police, more problems?
At Minneapolis City Hall, discussions on spending for the coming year began this summer, when department leaders and community groups pitched their budget ideas to Mayor Jacob Frey. He and his staff compiled the presentations into a 620-page budget proposal, totaling $1.62 billion, from which City Council members will work to finalize a budget.
Under Frey’s plan, the city’s property tax levy — the total amount of property tax the city will collect — would increase by roughly 7 percent. That would be the largest hike in 10 years.
But the property-tax levy increase alone would not be enough for the city to maintain its existing level of services and make necessary investments in 2020, according to the mayor. His plan cuts funding for city planners by almost $400,000 and Human Resources by $50,000, among other line-by-line changes.
In terms of new spending, police staffing is (once again) at the center of budget discussions at Minneapolis City Hall this year. Currently, MPD has 880 sworn officers, roughly 600 of whom respond to 911 calls, though MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo believes that total is too low for Minneapolis’ growing population and volume of 911 calls. Arradondo submitted an appeal to the mayor for municipal funding to hire additional officers earlier this year.
Addressing a crowd in council chambers Aug. 15, Frey agreed to the request, announcing that he would like to grow MPD’s force by 14 sworn officers next year. The positions would include eight neighborhood outreach officers; three sex-crimes and domestic-assault investigators; and three traffic officers.
But expanding the police force is controversial among some advocacy groups that want the city to divest in policing, including Reclaim the Block and the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar Clark. The groups interrupted Frey’s August budget announcement and offered dozens of testimonies at the city’s first budget hearing on Nov. 7.
On the other end of the spectrum, some residents and business leaders have become vocal in their support for the mayor’s request for more police, saying the extra staff could help decrease crime rates and make neighborhoods safer, and they made up a significant portion of speakers at the November public hearing.
In public meetings so far, some council members have been skeptical of the mayor’s request. For example, Council President Lisa Bender has voiced a “significant concern” about adding traffic officers to the department since the hiring won’t guarantee safer conditions for people on streets but could lead to racial profiling in traffic citations, she said. Meanwhile, other council members, such as Lisa Goodman from Ward 7 and Linea Palmisano from Ward 13, have said the city needs more than just eight outreach officers (under the mayor’s proposal) to curb illegal drug use and gun violence.
Frey’s budget proposal increases MPD’s budget by about $8.5 million, to more than $193 million next year, which is roughly 12 percent of the entire budget. That sum includes money to continue a program that partners mental-health professionals with police officers and add three non-sworn positions — one in the department’s public records unit, another to advocate for victims of sexual assault and a “Homeless Community Navigator” to help residents sleeping outside. (Currently, civilians hold roughly one-sixth of jobs, and their positions cost about $28,000 less annually in insurance and training costs than sworn officer positions.)
Frey is also touting a cross-department approach to public safety. In the city’s Health Department, for example, he wants to boost funding for the recently established Office of Violence Prevention, a one-stop shop for public-safety initiatives outside of MPD that oversees a program that connects gang members with social services, called Group Violence Intervention. Under the mayor’s proposal, GVI would target not only members of gangs in north Minneapolis but also those in south Minneapolis. And in the City Attorney’s Office, Frey wants to spend $75,000 to establish a new program that would help people in jail for low-level crimes, such as public urination or disorderly conduct, get to court hearings and avoid paying bail — as well as $75,000 to help offenders of domestic violence receive help outside of the law-enforcement and criminal justice systems.
In addition to public safety, housing is likely to be a focus of budget discussions this month. Building upon the city’s 2019 budget that committed a record high of $40 million to increase residents’ access to affordable housing, the mayor’s 2020 spending plan would pump $31 million toward programs with the same goal. Those initiatives include tenant legal services and tax incentives for landlords to keep rents stable. This year, Frey also wants to add a new city staff position to help tenants navigate leases, fees and negligent landlords; to spend $75,000 on boosting security in public housing, and to set aside money from the city to aid efforts by Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness. Some social-justice activists think the proposal should spend more money to help the city’s low-income renters.
Also, Frey is proposing more than $3 million to make streets cleaner, develop commercial buildings and help existing local business owners in what he has dubbed “cultural districts” — areas of Minneapolis where the majority of residents are people of color and where there’s a high concentration of low-income households. The districts identified in Frey’s plan are northeast’s Central Avenue, north Minneapolis’ West Broadway, Cedar-Riverside, Franklin Avenue, Lake Street and 38th Street.
In addition to the mayor’s proposal for new police positions, Frey wants to grow the city’s payroll outside of MPD, too. For instance, he wants to add a new “Health and Safety Coordinator” in the fire department to track when and where firefighters suffer injuries and how long it takes them to recover; staffing capacity to assess council members’ and city departments’ policy work; a researcher to study the impact of human trafficking on Minneapolis residents, and someone to oversee 2020 voter outreach in the city. The latter position is part of a budget section that commits more than $4 million on voter services in 2020 elections, including money to recruit and train workers to count absentee ballots. That total is more than double the spending in the previous presidential election cycle, in 2016.
At the council’s first budget hearing in November, a handful of speakers asked that the council add money for staff positions to promote equity among transgender residents, while others called attention to the mayor’s roughly $400,000 proposal to create a new program that would connect opioid addicts with social services — saying that is not enough money to combat the city’s drug problem.
After the second public hearing Wednesday, the council will gather to amend Frey’s budget proposal Friday. Then, it will hold a final public hearing Dec. 11 and adopt a 2020 spending plan after testimonies that evening.
St. Paul: More street repairs, less cops?
St. Paul’s Mayor Melvin Carter also unveiled his $622 million 2020 spending plan in August, a proposal that includes raising the city’s property tax levy by 4.85 percent.
That increase translates to $164 million, which, if passed, would cost the owner of a median-value home in St. Paul an additional $55 per year, according to city estimates. (St. Paul residents can use the city’s online property-tax calculator to estimate their individual amounts.)
But facing a $17 million gap for 2020, Carter has said increasing the city’s property-tax levy alone will not generate enough funding for the level of city services he wants, and he is proposing more than $4 million in budget cuts across city departments: eliminating five sworn officer positions, six positions in the city’s fire department and spending on libraries.
With those changes, Carter wants to invest $20 million in repairing and maintaining local streets, including an initiative to convert the eastern edge of Ayd Mill Road into a bicycle-only pathway and restrict car traffic to two lanes. That effort would build on years-old programs by the city’s public works to repave streets in neighborhoods and downtown.
The mayor also wants to spend new money to extend open hours for recreation centers; to reconstruct the 89-year-old Fire Station No. 7 on St. Paul’s East Side; establish a new college-bound initiative that would give $50 to every child born on or after Jan. 1, and create new city positions to enforce the city’s higher minimum wage, which the City Council established last year.
As in Minneapolis, activists in St. Paul are watching city leaders’ approach to public safety. At this point, Carter has denied funding requests by police Chief Todd Axtell for a software program that detects gunshots, called ShotSpotter, and more officers. And yet, despite Carter’s request to shrink the police force, his budget plan grows the department’s budget by more than $4.5 million overall, an increase higher than in any other city department.
In late November, amid a spike in gun violence, Carter went before the city council to ask to add $1.5 million to his initial budget — funding that he wants to go toward non-police programs that can help address the root causes of violence: a lack of employment, housing and security. That change to the budget would affect the proposed raise to the property-tax levy to 5.85 percent.
As in Minneapolis, the St. Paul City Council will take a final vote on the budget Dec. 11. So far, some council members have called attention to at least one section — a budget line that would generate $225,000 in revenue from a new $5 daily fee for some youth recreation programs — and have publicly voiced their concerns. But unlike in Minneapolis, the capital city’s laws that govern its mayoral powers grant Carter the authority to veto line-by-line changes by the council, though the council can later override that veto with a majority vote.