Members of the Minneapolis City Council went through the couch cushions of the budget last night looking for spare change.
In the end, the fund to bring Wi-Fi to more of City Hall had vanished, Police Chief Tim Dolan’s contingency fund was reduced and two 311 operators were eliminated.
The scramble for cash eclipsed what should have a celebration, given that the council unanimously passed its first budget in a decade that does not raise the city tax levy.
Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson proposed decreasing the 311 budgets by $125,000 and using the money to fund council members’ offices in 2012. The 311 operators answer non-emergency calls and direct city callers to the information they seek.
“Losing from 311 is a short-term gain and a long-term loss,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak “Don’t mess with something that’s working.”
The 311 money will add $10,490 to each of the 13 ward office budgets next year. The council also voted to roll over unspent 2011 funds from two ward budgets and supplemented their budgets further by claiming the last $30,000 left in the mayor’s budget for a one-time expenditure to bring wireless to more of City Hall.
The moves add at least $155,000 to the council’s ward offices, but that still represents a cut from 2011.
In a year with a zero-increase budget, there was not a lot of cash for anyone to spend.
The Minneapolis Telecommunications Network had been targeted by the mayor for a $250,000 reduction, about a 31 percent budget cut. MTN provides television equipment and studio space for community members who might not otherwise have a voice.
During earlier budget hearings, Jeremy Hanson Willis, Rybaks’s chief of staff, told council members justified the cuts by arguing that only 13 percent of what MTN broadcasts is original programming and that 98 percent of it is in English.
Even so, the council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee had restored $100,000 of the proposed cuts before last night’s final budget meeting. The full council then added another $50,000 to MTN’s budget leaving it with a cut of $100,000 for 2012. All of the restored MTN money comes from the wireless fund.
Police Chief Tim Dolan has $400,000 to $600,000 left in his 2012 budget. Whatever is not spent will be rolled over into the General Fund in 2012.
The budget committee earlier designated $317,000 of the chief’s money to fund a Domestic Abuse Prosecution Partnership program between the police department and the city attorney’s office.
Council members also voted to spend $81,000 of the police funds on two unrelated boards: The St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board will receive $31,000, and the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership will get $50,000.
“Taking money from the Police Department at a critical time is not a good idea,” said Mayor Rybak. “Our No. 1 priority is to keep police on the street.”
“This isn’t next year’s police budget,” countered Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, reminding members that unspent 2011 money does not stay with the Police Department. “It’s unfair to make it sound like it’s from the police budget.”
One approved item did not cost anything. The council directed staff to begin working on a plan to re-open Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street. The street was closed in the ’70s to accommodate construction of a K-Mart.
“That was one of the worst planning developments in the city of Minneapolis,” said Mayor Rybak. “I support this, and it doesn’t cost anything.”