Legislature approves neighborhood funding

Minneapolis has secured more money for neighborhoods and Target Center debt relief in the omnibus tax bill passed by the state Legislature.

The money, however, didn’t extend the life of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which is scheduled to lose its funding source in 2009. NRP taps money from tax-increment financing districts called the Common Project. The new plan also provides funding from redevelopment districts, but they will no longer be labeled as the Common Project.

The NRP Work Group is scheduled to make a presentation to the City Council on June 19 with an update on the city’s “Framework for the Future” and recommendations on how to spend the money secured this session.

Under the legislation, captured taxes can now be used to fund Minneapolis neighborhoods from 2010–2020 and pay off about $100 million in debt owed on the Target Center by 2024.

While the process to earmark money for Minneapolis neighborhoods was an arduous one and the future of the city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts remains unclear, state Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) said that he expects much of the programming in place will continue.

“Neighborhood priorities will continue,” Dibble said. “Exactly how that will look, I can’t say with any precision.”

Neighborhoods leaders are very interested to what extent paying off Target Center debt will affect neighborhood programs.

Steven Gallagher, executive director of the Stevens Square Community Organization, said under the latest incarnation of neighborhood funding, the city can unload some of its debt while simultaneously funding neighborhood organizations — what he called a “win-win.”

Mark Hinds, executive director of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, echoed that statement calling the legislation a “big win” for neighborhood groups and the city.

“It should put neighborhoods in a really good position to keep doing what they do,” he said.

Some are concerned, however, that the city will prioritize paying down Target Center debt over support for neighborhoods.

“My concern is that the city is going to put 100 percent into the Target Center until that’s paid off and leave the neighborhood organizations in the lurch,” Gallagher said.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), a member of the NRP Work Group, said that using funds solely to payoff Target Center debt wouldn’t be a wise course of action.

“Sure, we could use all the money in the first couple of years [to pay off Target Center], but the neighborhoods would get zero,” Hodges said. “That doesn’t make sense in terms of long-term goals for neighborhoods and the great work neighborhoods do and what they bring to the city.”

NRP is a 20-year program that has funneled money into neighborhoods for community-chosen programs, including home improvement grant programs, extra police patrols and community centers, among other things. The program has faced a rocky financial situation since 2001 when the Legislature passed an omnibus tax bill, which reduced the Common Project revenue available to NRP.

The NRP Work Group includes Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward), Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Hodges, Mayor Rybak’s Policy Aid Cara Letofsky and NRP Chair Bob Miller.

In coming months, the NRP Work Group plans to meet and address how the community engagement process will look in coming years.

 “The need to nimbly respond to the issues of neighborhoods is important to the city,” Hodges said. “Every neighborhood needs resources to respond to community needs, and some neighborhoods are facing more challenges than others.”

After the work group’s June 19 meeting before the Council, future proposals will go to the committee level and will be discussed over the course of the summer before they are signed off on by the City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak.

A new plan for community engagement is expected to be in place this fall, said senior NRP/citizen participation specialist Bob Cooper.

“The real body of work is the NRP Workgroup continuing to add details to their initial skeletal structure of what [neighborhoods] would look like,” Cooper said. “Then it would kind of be a summer of love for folks to discuss, debate and digest the merits of that work and sometime in September 2008 to say ‘This is where we’re going.’”