Mayor’s 2009 budget prioritizes public safety, intrastructure

In his budget address Thursday, Mayor R.T. Rybak reflected on five years of fiscal responsibility and his plans for the next generation of Minneapolis roads and bridges.

But those plans will come at a cost. Under Rybak’s proposed $1.5 billion budget, property taxes would rise 6.86 percent, equaling about a $65 increase in 2009 for a Minneapolis home valued $216,000.

Notably, the increase was the first time under the Rybak administration that property taxes have gone up less than 8 percent since a five-year fiscal plan was implemented in 2003, according to Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson.

The mayor said first and foremost, he’s recommending a continued commitment to police and public safety.

Rybak proposed more than half — $210 million — from the General Fund to be spent to “maintain” the city’s police force and its 880 officers (an increase of about $6.5 million more than last year).

“Our number one goal is to make Minneapolis a safe place to call home, and we’ve put our money where our mouth is,” Rybak said.

Extra police money in 2008 has arguably equaled a dip in violent crime (25 percent) and juvenile violent crime (46 percent) citywide.

If public safety is priority one, plugging potholes seems to be priority two.

“We are failing in our duty to reinforce and support the infrastructure passed to us by our predecessors and we are meaning to pass on to our children,” Rybak said. “No other part of our operations has suffered more than our basic city infrastructure.”

To remedy this, Rybak’s proposed an “Infrastructure Acceleration Program.” Over five years, $27.5 million will be used to fix major streets, bike trails, and traffic and streetlights in Minneapolis.

And for those who don’t like potholes, Rybak said an additional $19.5 million would be allotted to resurface 43 miles of major streets and seal-coat cracks and potholes on 26 miles of streets and bike trails over the next five years.

Rybak has earmarked money to fix and reopen the Bryant Avenue Pedestrian Bridge — the wobbly bridge is currently closed. The bridge is being studied and a damage report is expected by the end of November, according to Public Works Director Steve Kotke.

Rybak proposed using the Hilton — or Legacy — fund to foot the proposed $27.5 million needed to improved roads and bridges.

Rybak said that in 2002–2003, state-funding cuts meant a 10 percent reduction to the General Fund and many hard fiscal decisions that didn’t always please everyone, including taxpayers. But due to that diligence, Rybak said the city has cleared an $88 million debt and can focus efforts and money on pressing needs such as public safety and a major infrastructure overhaul.