Council passes mayor’s $1.3 billion budget

Plan also includes property tax increase, $300,000 for streetcar study

The Minneapolis City Council has adopted a $1.3 billion budget for 2006 - a spending plan that includes a property tax increase of 8 percent.

The Council voted 7-5 to approve Mayor R.T. Rybak's budget Dec. 19. The 2006 property tax levy will be $209.2 million, up from $193.7 million in 2005, according to City Budget Coordinator Tara Barenok.

For a home with an estimated market value of $143,500, residential and property taxes will be $1,404 - a 5.4 percent increase. A $225,000 home will have a $1,705 tab from the city, a 6 percent increase from 2005, according to a financial report prepared by the city's Finance Department.

The increases account for the city's tax levy only, not the levies passed by the county, School Board or Park Board.

The percentage increases will vary for homes based on the property's limited market value - the home's value that hasn't been taxed in the past but now is being phased in, Barenok said.

The 2006 budget includes funding for an additional 71 police officers, a $72 million reduction in city debt, a new 311 information line, new career centers in Minneapolis Public high schools, and funding for four new city planners focused on development issues in Downtown, Uptown, neighborhoods and transportation.

The budget also includes a $100,000 budget for a new city/county coordinator on homelessness. Cathy ten Broeke, the new coordinator, has been charged with monitoring efforts to end long-term, chronic homelessness.

Other highlights include new fire safety response standards that shorten the time it takes firefighters to respond to a call and $300,000 for a feasibility study on replacing buses with streetcars along major commercial corridors in the city.

Councilmembers Scott Benson (11th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) offered an amendment to the budget with funding for the study.

&#8220We cannot continue to grow as a region with so many people driving alone in cars,” said Rybak, who first pushed for the study. &#8220Bringing streetcars back to the streets of Minneapolis makes sense as a transit alternative and will add to the vitality of our key commercial corridors. This study is the first step to realizing that vision.”

Councilmembers Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), Barbara Johnson (4th Ward), Robert Lilligren (8th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) voted for the spending plan.

Councilmembers Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) and Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) voted no. Don Samuels (3rd Ward) was absent.

Goodman said she voted against adoption because of the property tax hike, among other reasons.

&#8220I voted against the budget because I am concerned about the pressure of increasing property taxes, which will result in many seniors being force out of homes they have lived in for many years,” she said.

Downtown condo owners also face challenges. Some condos are increasing in value beyond what they could be sold for as the market cools down, forcing some homeowners to challenge their valuation, Goodman said.