City Council trims $5.2 million from 2002 budget

Few department budgets escaped untouched as the Minneapolis City Council unanimously agreed on Feb. 15 to a slate of $5.2 million in budget cuts -- spending reduction decisions left over from the previous council's budget process.

The cuts -- prepared by a budget work team consisting of Mayor R.T. Rybak, Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Ways and Means Chair Barb Johnson (4th Ward), and Councilmember Barret Lane -- eliminated roughly 40 full- and part-time positions.

Approximately 24 of those positions were already vacant, held open by a hiring freeze implemented in January. Only the Assessor's Department and Planning Department escaped the red pen.

The Police and Fire Departments each took cuts of just over 1 percent. Most departments dealt with cuts in the 4-to-6 percent range.

The Police Department was asked to take a cut of $1.3 million. Through management changes, attrition, overtime reduction and other administrative savings, the cuts would not reduce the number of officers on the street. The Fire Department was asked to redesign its services and cut $495,000.

The Civilian Review Authority (CRA) -- a civilian oversight board of the police department -- will be phased out and replaced. The council left $200,00 of the CRA's $357,000 original budget to continue functioning until a replacement agency can be created. Several councilmembers complained about the CRA's ineffectiveness and administrative costs.

"You are not well regarded," said

Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) to CRA Executive Director Patricia Hughes and CRA Board Chair Daryl Lynn during the budget hearings.

A proposal to scale back the Truth in Housing program, which requires certain home repairs when a property is put on

the market, was removed from the budget discussion. A hearing on eliminating the mandatory element to the program will be held at the public safety and regulatory services committee on March 19. There was no known budgetary impact for eliminating the program because fees were thought to generate the money needed to cover its costs.

Here are some of the significant cuts approved by the council:

  • Cut: $550,000 -- restructure street department repair crews.

  • Impact: Hundreds of potholes will take longer to fill or will go unfilled.

  • Cut: $28,000 -- eliminate vacant part-time animal warden position

  • Impact: Increased response times to animal control. Police will need to respond to more public safety issues involving dogs and other animals.

  • Cut: $25,000 -- reduce number of precincts in each ward to 10.

  • Impact: New polling places for many voters, possibly increased waiting times to vote.

  • Cut: $30,000 for substitute council staff; $4,500 for reduced council phone lines.

  • Impact: Longer response times from councilmembers when staff members take a vacation; possible busy signal when trying to reach your councilmember.

  • Cut: $382,000 -- eliminate the Office of Cultural Affairs.

  • Impact: "Arts is a very important part of economic development," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. Private arts groups and the Arts Commission will be asked to take up more of that economic development role. Former 6th Ward City Councilmember Jim Niland had expressed an interest in running this office.

  • Cut: $330,000 -- eliminate sensitive surface graffiti program.

  • Impact: This program subsidized the application of a graffiti-resistant surface and subsequent clean-up of graffiti. With the burden of clean-up entirely on property owners, graffiti removal might not occur as swiftly or thoroughly.

    Despite some vigorous debate over certain cuts, all 13 councilmembers agreed to the budget cuts. Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said the unanimous vote was a "very strong statement of this council's ability and willingness to work together despite our differences."

    Tougher budget work lies ahead. Gov. Jesse Ventura has proposed cutting the city's Local Government Aids by more than $15 million. Additionally, a structural imbalance in expenditures and revenues will force city officials to carefully consider future budgets. Finance department projections show that by 2010 the city would need to triple its property tax levy to pay for existing services and commitments -- an amount that can't even be assessed because of state levy limits.