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Minneapolis budget proposals include increased street maintenance, police hires

Preventive maintenance for Minneapolis streets would be expanded for the first time in several years as part of the 2014 Public Works budget.

That is just one item in the department’s proposed $310.3 million budget, which would be up about 2 percent from this year’s level.

“We have $575,000 in [the 2014] budget for preventative maintenance work above and beyond what we’ve had in previous years,” said Steve Kotke, director of Public Works, during his Monday presentation to the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee.

Homeowners would see an increase of 2.3 percent in the cost of city-operated utilities, but the increase might have been higher.  Originally, the cost of sewer service for the average city household was slated to increase by 82 cents a month, based on expected price increases for that service by the Metropolitan Council.

The 82-cent increase was cut to 40 cents when the Met Council decreased its charges to the city. In all, the average monthly charges for a residential household would rise $1.83 to $82.52. That total includes charges for sewer, water, storm water and solid waste.

The department will spend $53.5 million — up from $47.5 million this year — for snow removal, street maintenance and traffic and lighting services.

The One-Sort recycling has proven popular, and there are plans in the weeks ahead to present a program for the recycling of organic materials.

There is also money in the budget to begin the planning for the proposed Central Avenue-Nicollet Avenue streetcar line.

“We have about $1.4 million set aside for the streetcar initiative, a portion of that is to complete the environmental assessment,” said Kotke. “There are also dollars in there to begin preliminary engineering work.”

Police budget includes new hires

Next year’s biggest challenge for the Police Department will be maintaining the current strength of 850 sworn officers, given that 221 of them are eligible for retirement.

The department’s proposed budget is $146.2 million, an increase of 7.4 percent from 2013.

To help maintain full strength, the department is bringing back a program that allows them to hire potential sworn officers with college degrees that did not focus on criminal justice courses.

“They bring with them a different mindset and different experience,” said Chief Janee Harteau of the planned cadet class. “Our goal is to diversify our force. No doubt about it, we are not where we want to be, not with ethnicity, not with gender.”

The department is taking applications for a class of 25. Formal cadet training takes six months, with additional training during the next year and a half.

The department also plans to hire 25 community service officers. These people — hired after they graduate from high school, with emphasis on Minneapolis residents — work in community outreach. They receive money for college and are paid a salary. Upon college graduation, they are eligible for assignment to a police recruit class that could lead to a full-time job as a sworn officer.

It can be a challenge balancing training time for new hires with the pending retirement plans for officers who can retire early at age 50 and at 55 with full benefits.

“We look at every option we have,” said Harteau. “Are we getting to a place where I thing we’re going to do less with less?  I absolutely do.”

The department’s retirement rules are scheduled to change next July. Currently, when an officer retires between 50 and 55, there is a 6 percent penalty on their pension amount. That 6 percent penalty will increase to 25 percent.

Of the 221 officers who are eligible to retire next year, 53 are eligible for the full package.

“I think we will be having a conversation about additional staffing,” said Harteau. She also expects to find funds for six crime prevention specialists not currently included in the budget.

She is also working on a training program focusing on cultural and racial awareness but said those plans are not complete.

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