In a budget address focused heavily on public safety, Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed adding 43 cops to the streets of Minneapolis and investing an additional $2 million in public safety technology over the next two years.
The number of proposed new police officers, along with the 71 officers Rybak's 2006 budget called for, would bring the total number of sworn officers in Minneapolis to 893 - the same number before state cuts to local government aid in 2002 prompted a significant reduction in the number of cops on the streets.
“The most powerful tool in any crime-fighting strategy is to put more police officers on the street,” Rybak said.
In addition to the mayor's budget again calling for more cops, it also calls for another 8 percent overall property tax hike. Under the mayor's proposal, property taxes for a home with an estimated market value of $225,000 would see a property tax increase of about $165.
But despite the property-tax increases that Minneapolis residents have seen in recent years, Rybak said during his Aug. 15 budget address to the City Council that the city continues to face several financial challenges. Many development projects in the 1970s and 1980s used tax increment financing that allowed the city to use all the new tax revenue generated by those buildings for 30 years. But those three decades are almost up, and the mayor said having those buildings back on the tax roll will cost the city more than $6 million annually in lost local government aid from the state.
And while the mayor's plan maintains the 2 percent limit on wage growth for all unsettled labor contracts, Rybak said he knows that the current wage policy is not sustainable if the city wants to attract and retain talented employees. He also said the city needs to continue to work on paying down its pension fund debts. Rybak said he will be convening City Council members and community leaders in the next few months to find “real solutions” to those challenges.
The mayor's recommended budget for 2007 decreases city spending from the 2006 budget by 1 percent. Part of the decrease in spending, according to the plan, is because the local government aid Minneapolis will receive from the state in 2007 will be $10 million less than the prior year.
But the mayor's proposal does not cut back on spending when it comes to public safety. Rybak said his budget would sink almost $200 million into public safety measures next year.
The $2 million investment in public safety technology over the next two years will include funding for more safety cameras like those in the Downtown Safe Zone initiative as well as expanding the new Shot Spotter technology that pinpoints exactly where shots were fired and relays that information to police. Rybak said the city will also utilize a proposed citywide wireless network in expanding these technologies, all of which will be integrated into what he called a “cutting edge network” that will aid law enforcement officers.
The mayor also pledged additional funding for domestic violence prevention, new homeless outreach efforts, a coordinated graffiti program, and problem property demolition and renovation.
Rybak said he is working with the General Mills Foundation to set up a meeting with other mayors and police chiefs from across the country at the end of this month to discuss issues surrounding youth violence.
The City Council will hold public hearings on the budget in October and November. In December the Council will adopt a final budget that reflects changes made to the mayor's recommended budget.
Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at email@example.com and 436-4373.