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Minneapolis budget moves bolster tornado cleanup, domestic abuse programs

With a zero-increase budget the goal, Minneapolis City Council members have learned that if they want to give more money to some deserving program or department, they’ll first have to find it and take it away from some other deserving program or department.

The first session of budget amendments Tuesday moved quickly but didn’t move much money.

The big windfall was $400,000 more than expected in Community Development Block Grants from the federal government.

Ways and Means/Budget Chair Betsy Hodges was first with a plan to spend the money, supporting $164,600 for the North Side Business Initiative to support and attract small businesses for the area

The idea, though, died a quick death.

“I strongly object,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who chairs the Community Development Committee. “We’re creating a program on the fly during the budget process,” Goodman said, adding that she would rather see the money go to existing programs.

“It’s too loosey-goosey for me,” added Council Member Meg Tuthill who has started two businesses and argued that $164,600 wouldn’t go very far to get even one business off the ground. 

The block grant funds come with rules that limit spending to capital projects, some administration and some service. The money cannot be dumped into the General Fund.

Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy did succeed in allocating $60,000 of the block grant funds to the city’s domestic abuse program. That move hit the limit of what could be spent on service projects.

Meanwhile, Council Member Diane Hofstede got $104,600 designated for tornado cleanup and demolition by the Department of Regulatory Service, Problem Property Division, restoring a one-person staff cut from June.

Hodges was successful in funding the Neighborhood Services’ Youth Violence Prevention Program with a $72,000 grant and finding $164,600 for Mult-Family Affordable Housing.

That, however, marked the end of the easy money.

Community crime prevention specialists got some help from Police Chief Tim Dolan through his contingency fund.  The specialists are Police Department civilians who serve as liaisons to the community.  The mayor’s budget had cut five of those jobs.

“This is one of the best public services folks in my ward get,” said Hodges, who advanced the proposal to keep as many of the civilians as possible.  She also thanked Dolan for his budget skills and for being willing to spend his contingency funds.

Dolan came through again with $317,000 for the Domestic Assault Prosecution Partnership, which links the Police Department with the city attorney’s staff.  The city had applied unsuccessfully for a federal grant to fund the program.

“Thanks to the Police Department for, in such a tough budget time, the balancing act they’ve done,” Said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy.

The Minneapolis Telecommunication Network fared better, than, it did under the mayor’s proposal, which would have cut $250,000, or 31 percent of its budget. The network provides television equipment and studio time for those who might not have access to broadcasting.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden moved to restore $150,000, proposing to take $50,000 from Public Works Street Light Repair Funds and another $100,000 designated for making City Hall wireless.  

“It’s a terrible idea to choose the lights at MTN over the street lights for the entire city,” said Goodman. 

Jeremy Hanson Willis, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff, said the decision to cut the MTN budget came after careful study of its budget and programming.

“It’s really not serving as wide and diverse audience as expected,” said Hanson Willis, noting that only 13 percent of its broadcasts is original programming and 98 percent is in English. He added that the network uses less than half of its available studio time.

Council members voted down spending street light repair money on MTN but decided to forgo City Hall wireless for now and give MTN another $100,000.

Here’s the quick list of some other changes made by council members:

• Cut $200,000 from public works and added the money to the Malls and Plaza program, apparently with the consent of folks in Public Works.

• Transferred two positions and moved $226,303 from Regulatory Services to Emergency Management Services. 

• Added several positions to the Water Department.

• Moved $90,000 from Community Planning and Economic Development to the Civil Rights Department.

Here’s a quick look of several other items still on the table:

• A change that would have license applicants pay for the required criminal background checks.

• Changes in the way the city pays for graffiti removal.

• A proposal that would define the relationship between the Fire Department and Regulatory Services.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 12/07/2011 - 05:41 pm.

    Thank you for this article and information! Now, if you could only tell us what positions were added/moved/changed, etc. that would FINALLY bring some light to the Mpls budget secrecy. More details please! The world is tired of waiting months for the Finance Department to publish the information.

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