Public Works maintenance ends, construction proceeds

Broken traffic lights won’t get fixed as fast this year, potholes won’t get filled as fast, and the city will get farther and farther behind on its routine maintenance, said the Klara Fabry, Public Works director.

Fabry has proposed nearly eliminating preventative maintenance of streets, bridges, traffic signals and city-run malls and plazas to close her department’s $6.2 million 2003 budget gap.

The City Council approved Fabry’s plan April 1.

Public Works shouldered the biggest percentage cut of any major agency, as the city braced for the $21 million Local Government Aids (LGA) cuts proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. To protect vital police and fire services, city leaders told Public Works to take a disproportionate cut — 16 percent of its general-fund revenues.

"This is not sustainable," Fabry said. "It will cost you a lot more to manage the asset if you are not doing any kind of preventative maintenance."

Maintenance cuts would also create safety hazards, she said.

If the money situation doesn’t turn around, she may recommend a citywide utility maintenance fee — billing property owners for street and bridge maintenance similar to how the city now charges property owners for garbage and recycling, Fabry said.

Local projects safe

Planned construction projects will go forward, such as resurfacing six miles of Linden Hills’ streets and reconstructing Nicollet Avenue from the Minnehaha Creek Bridge to 46th Street. The city borrows to pay for construction projects, and they aren’t affected by the department’s annual operating budget, which pays for maintenance and emergency repairs.

Under a plan presented to the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, Public Works would cut $2.4 million earmarked to fill cracks and seal-coat streets; $1.6 million for maintenance and repair of streetlights, signals and signs; $600,000 for upkeep of city-run malls and plazas such as the Loring Greenway and $300,000 for bridge maintenance.

The legislature has not yet approved Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget, and the LGA cuts may not be as deep as expected.

Fabry said she first would look for increased efficiencies to save money. Depending on the final state budget, she would look at other revenue sources in 2004.

Minneapolis has inadequately funded maintenance of streets, bridges and traffic control systems for years, Fabry said. In 2003 alone, Pubic Works estimates the city will spend $7 million less than it should on street maintenance.

Under Fabry’s 2003 plan, Public Works would cut 87 of its 260 seasonal workers. The seasonal workers fill the potholes, repaint street markings, fix traffic signals and do a lot of the preventative maintenance, Fabry said.

Fabry does not anticipate layoffs, she said. The majority of the department is supported by fee-based services: sewer, water and solid waste. The department has 1,400 positions.

Seasonal worker attrition would lessen layoff pressure. Vacancies in other areas would allow Public Works to offer jobs to those otherwise facing layoffs, Fabry said.