Residents weigh in on citys new plan for neighborhoods

Dozens of policymakers, lawmakers and neighbors gathered at City Council Chambers Aug. 20 to call on the Council to save the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) — as it is — any way it could.

The NRP Work Group has been working on a new plan for neighborhoods called a “Framework for the Future” since funding for NRP, a 20-year program, ends in 2009.

Here’s a sampling of comments about the plan at the Aug. 20 meeting:

 “Everything needs a tweak, but I think keeping the power back with the people is the way to go. Keep things at grass roots.”

“The current NRP is most effective way to involve neighborhoods’ citizens. Why change that for something that’s not going to be as effective?”

“It should be obvious many people have serious and obvious concerns about the Framework. It’s not ready, and we want to defer approval.”

A taxing situation

Few people like taxes. Even fewer enjoy discussing them.

But by the end of next year, Minneapolis will no longer collect taxes from a group of Downtown tax districts specifically for NRP. These Tax Increment Finance (TIF)  Districts had, for the last 18 years, used the annual increase in property taxes to help fund NRP. As of Jan. 1, 2010, that will no longer be the case. The tax districts funding NRP will “turn off” in 2010 and “turn back on” in 2011, meaning there will be a gap in funding for about a year between when the taxes are levied and subsequently collected.

However, the state Legislature will allow the city to collect taxes from the same tax districts used under NRP, but this time it will be to pay off city debt owed on the Target Center (about $100 million) and for “neighborhood revitalization purposes.”

Because of the changes enacted by lawmakers, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council members, NRP will, in all probability, look different as it enters its third decade.

Current plans call for a Neighborhood Community Advisory Board to largely replace the 17-member NRP Policy Board. It also calls for the creation of a Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, which would effectively serve as a centralized office between neighborhoods and other city departments.

But those moves won’t happen just yet, as the City Council decided to postpone action until Sept. 26 after learning that many neighborhood groups may not have had ample opportunity to submit their comments on the future neighborhood plans due to summer breaks.

Council members will continue to address future make-up and funding throughout their fall budget talks. A final decision on NRP is expected when the 2009-10 budget is ratified Dec. 12.

Because of comments made by Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman during the public comment session, the Council has asked city staff to ask other “inter-jurisdictional” members on the NRP Policy Board (such as the County, School and Park Boards) if they would be interested in giving up $4 million in annual taxes (totaling $24 million) to keep the structure of NRP the same.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said she’s been down this road before — and it’s a dead end. She and other members of the NRP Policy Board sat down with county commissioners last spring in an attempt to secure future funding for NRP.

“They didn’t say an outright ‘No,’” Hodges said, “but it wasn’t a particularly warm reception.”

Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward) called on Dorfman and other county leaders to step up to the plate financially and continue to dedicate the county’s portion of Downtown property taxes to NRP.

That may be a futile effort, however.

Dorfman, who requested the city secure funding for neighborhoods in places other than tax districts, said the county has already “given” $120 million in taxes to NRP, and said securing more county money for NRP in the future would be difficult because of a lack of support from a majority of the County Board.

Properties in the Downtown TIF districts — which date to the 1970s — are expected to produce $24 million initially, according to city estimates. But just because legislators said the city could renew the TIF districts, doesn’t necessarily mean it will continue to collect taxes from all of them.

Mayor’s proposal

Mayor Rybak recently proposed that the City Council renew only 75 percent of the tax districts — and dedicate the $18 million they produce each year — for Target Center and neighborhoods. Under Rybak’s proposal, $8 million would go to neighborhoods, while $10 million would go to Target Center each year between 2011 and 2020. The remaining districts — and their $6 million — would simply not be renewed. And therefore the taxes collected go back to city and county coffers, lightening the tax burden on citizens by about $22 each.

Flanked by pizza-box-waving NRP advocates Aug. 20, Debbie Evans, a member of Neighbors For NRP, told the Council she would gladly give up the amount saved in property taxes — about the price of a pizza and pop — to keep NRP as it is.

“People would be happy to give up a pizza and pop to save NRP as we know it,” Evans said.

Get involved

Those wishing to submit public comments on the “Framework for the Future” — the city’s new plan for neighborhoods — should contact Committee Clerk Anissa Hollingshead at anissa.hollingshead@ci.minneapolis.mn.us by Sept. 11. Letters can be sent to Council Committee Clerk, 350 South 5th Street, Room 304, Minneapolis, MN 55415.