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Minneapolis City Council adopts budget; property tax levy to increase 5.5 percent

Minneapolis City Council
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
At Tuesday night's meeting, the Minneapolis City Council asked that the board of taxation and equalization increase the property tax levy increase by 5.5 percent.

This edition of the Minneapolis City Council has kind of been in a groove — at least when it comes to passing municipal budgets.

After two lengthy and ugly budget adoptions in 2014 and 2015, the last two budgets have gone relatively smoothly. Wednesday night’s adoption took less than an hour, despite council members offering 10 amendments.

When the 13 members of the current council were finished — and after saying the first of several rounds of goodbyes to five members not returning in January — they had unanimously adopted a $1.4 billion budget proposed by Mayor Betsy Hodges in September.

“I have to say, we’ve had some raucous budgets and this wasn’t one, so just wait,” Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden said to new city Budget Director Micah Intermill. “I thought this was a remarkably collegial budget.”

And while Hodges has attended the final budget debate in the past, she was not there for her final budget. That allowed Council Member Lisa Bender to go beyond the relatively small items discussed Wednesday and address broader themes embedded inside the budget.

“When we get to this night, we’re talking about these little tiny changes but I want to take a moment to reflect the overall budget,” Bender said. “This is a budget to be very proud of. It was unanimously adopted and reflects our shared commitment to affordable housing investments, to job creation, to racial equity, to community safety — not just through policing but in a holistic way.”

Hodges presented her spending plan in September, a month beyond what the city charter requires. She cited the crisis caused by the police killing of Justine Damond and the appointment of a new chief as reasons for the delay. She asked for a total spending of $1.4 billion, a 6.2 percent increase over the previous year. Her increases were in public safety, clean energy and affordable housing.

Her requested levy increase was 5.5 percent, an increase that includes the impacts of the $800 million, 20-year parks and roads maintenance program approved in 2016. She also proposed an increase in the utility franchise fee to raise $2 million a year for clean energy and to address climate change.

Moving money to fund smaller priorities

Because mayors usually spend all the money that’s available, any changes made by council members to the budget must include cuts to what has been previously proposed. That’s not always easy, since most of the city’s money goes for ongoing expenses, especially payroll.

Those budget facts made two pots of money in Hodges’ proposed budget especially attractive: $650,000 for that new Nighttime Mobility Management System and $730,000 to hire eight community liaisons, civilians who would work with community groups and police officers.

The community liaisons are civilian staffers who “will help address issues related to community trauma, heroin and opioid addiction, homelessness and mistrust of government agencies — to name a few,” Hodges said in her budget address. She wanted them to come out of communities most affected by crime including African-American, East African, Latino and Native American communities.

The Nighttime Mobility Management Program was part of the mayor’s proposal to address downtown safety. It would help move traffic and people through the entertainment areas of downtown “during late night and at bar close so people can get in and out of downtown safely.”

The Minneapolis City Council listening to public testimony
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The Minneapolis City Council listening to public testimony before taking up the final passage of the 2018 city budget.

The council had already taken money proposed for the late-night traffic management program to pay for a match to a federal grant that would add 10 commissioned police officers devoted to combating gun violence. Money that would have paid for four of the community liaisons was also shifted, so that the city could add a housing inspector to work with minority and ethnic communities and two new positions to work with the body camera program, reviewing footage to respond to public records requests. Additional money also went to workplace standards enforcement, as was requested by residents during a public hearing on the budget held Nov. 29.

On Wednesday, another pot of money — Hodges’ request for $1.8 million to redesign the city’s website — was targeted for a batch of even smaller appropriations: for a assistance program aimed at creating cooperative businesses; for the Southside Green Zone Initiative; for the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Hub; to contract for an after-school science, technology, engineering and math education program; and to help fund a full-time lead inspector in the Health Department.

When they were finished, the pot of money for the website redesign had been reduced by $308,000. City Coordinator Spencer Cronk said the website work can still be done, perhaps resulting in a design that is not as robust as it might have been but still an improvement.

Municipal ID and property taxes

After hearing testimony during the public hearing Wednesday in support of creating a city identification card, Council Member Alondra Cano succeeded in adopting a staff direction to create a Municipal ID Workgroup. The workgroup of city staffers would come up with a plan by March 31 to offer a city ID card. Such cards likely would be available to all residents, but would be especially helpful to immigrants who can’t get other government IDs. Without them, banking and other financial services are not available. The city of Northfield will take up the creation of a municipal ID at its council meeting next week.

The council also asked that the board of taxation and equalization increase the property tax levy increase by 5.5 percent. That levy will collect $331 million next year, or about 23 percent of city spending. Some of the increase is to begin paying for the 20-year program to catch up on park maintenance and the rebuilding of city streets.

While Hodges didn’t attend the meeting, she issued a statement after the adoption of the budget: “As I look back at my time serving the people of Minneapolis — four years as Mayor, and eight years on the City Council before that — I do so knowing that I’m leaving the city in excellent financial shape, and on much firmer footing than it was 12 years ago. What future leaders choose to do with this legacy is up to them, but in my view, this is the firm foundation on which One Minneapolis can and must continue to be built.”

As Bender noted, the changes made by the council are all on the margins of the $1.4 billion budget proposal. That doesn’t mean they can’t be controversial, though. In 2014, a move to reduce spending on racial equity staffing by a few hundred thousand dollars in order to reduce the property tax caused a blow up. The next year it was a proposal (which ended up not never being offered) to spend $600,000 on improvements to the 4th Police Precinct that sent the meeting into the late hours.

Parks and Rec Superintendent Miller off to Pittsburgh

The annual budget adoption meeting began with some news when Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Anita Tabb announced that park Superintendent Jayne Miller would be leaving. Miller, hired in 2010, will be taking a similar job in Pittsburgh, as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Meg Forney embraced Park Superintendent Jayne Miller
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board member Meg Forney embraced Park Superintendent Jayne Miller after it was announced that Miller is leaving to take a similar position in Pittsburgh.

Tabb and John Erwin, both who are leaving the board, attributed Miller’s decision criticism aimed at her during the election by a slate of board candidates. That slate, backed by Our Revolution, a successor organization to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, was critical of the board and staff’s work on racial equity in park services and investments.

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