Rybak’s 2008 budget invests in public safety

The City Council has adopted a $1.4 billion budget for 2008, a 5 percent increase over last year’s.

It includes more money for public safety, but there are dips in other areas, such as community planning and economic development. To help pay for city services, it includes an average 8 percent property tax increase, a move that Mayor R.T. Rybak described as necessary but some Council members called painful for their constituents. Property taxes have been levied by 8 percent every year since 2002, as part of a plan to reduce debt and offset cuts in funding by the state government.

Council Members Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward) voted against the tax increase at the Dec. 12 budget meeting. Goodman said some property owners in her ward pay more in taxes than they did for their homes.

"It’s going to be the very rich and the very poor who will choose to live here," she said. "Because now we’re at the point where middle class people are really affected by this."

She was the lone member to vote against the budget. She said it would be hypocritical to vote for the budget but not the levy.

Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward) was disappointed in the levy, but still voted for it. He said property owners have already been hit hard with annual tax increases.   

"We cannot increase property taxes that much every year," he said during an interview.

Rybak said he understood that council members were uncomfortable with the increase.

While some city departments will see more money in 2008, overall, the budget is tight. During interviews, Rybak and some council members placed partial blame on state government.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the tax bill. The legislation would have provided millions of dollars in restoring some local government aid (LGA) and relief for property taxpayers. After the I-35W bridge collapse, Pawlenty said he would reconsider the bill in a possible special session but never called one.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said that the Council had to make impossible decisions with an impossible stricture.

"This is not a good budget year," she said during an interview. "We’ve cut to the bone. Now we’re cutting the bone."

A ‘public safety’ budget

However, there will be more money for public safety in 2008.

The police department will see an almost $8 million increase in its budget, from $119.7 million to $127.5 million. The fire department will get around $1 million less than it did last year. That’s because Emergency Preparedness Grants were transferred to the Department of Regulatory Services and Emergency Preparedness, according to the city’s finance department. Still, money will go toward the hiring of four new 911 operators, three firefighters and 18 police

"This is a public safety budget just as the last ones were," Rybak said during an interview.

He said that previous investments in the police department have helped reduce violent crime this year. During the first half of 2007, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide rates were down. "We’re beginning to turn the corner," he said.

Some council members would like to see even more cops on the street.

During the Council’s budget meeting, Remington recommended taking $160,000 from overtime money to put two new full-time police officers on the street. He said his constituents are begging for more police presence. Some members argued that taking money out of the overtime budget for more police officers was not a smart idea. The amendment failed, with only
Remington and Benson voting for it.

Other budget highlights:

• NRP: The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) will get $1.67 million for its administrative budget.

• Library funding: The Minneapolis Public Library will get $22.1 million for the integration of the library with the Hennepin County Library system.

• Mortgage foreclosures: In an e-mail, Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) wrote that he was happy to see around $700,000 for mortgage foreclosure prevention. However, he said he didn’t know if the city was doing enough and believes City Hall needs to be flexible in its responses to "the rash of foreclosures in 2008 and beyond."

• Job training: During an interview, Rybak highlighted money for job training. Overall, the city will spend $11 million on job training and economic development in 2008. The budget includes $1.5 million for job training and placement programs for hard-to-employ residents. As a result of investing in training, the mayor said there will be more productive people who are paying taxes.

• Youth program: Hodges said she is happy there is matching funding for the "You(th) Are Here" circulator bus, which transports children to activities.

Reach Brady Gervais at [email protected] and 436-4373.