Jobs, services targeted in mayors proposed ’09 budget revision

Rybak says the pain is less than it could have been.

Mayor R.T. Rybak made it clear: Plugging a $30 million budget gap for the year will cost jobs, but it’ll cost far fewer than could have been lost.

Rybak’s newly revised 2009 budget, unveiled on Monday to a packed City Council chambers, outlines a combination of gains and losses — gains in the form of paid-down debt and federal stimulus money, losses in the form of 59 citywide job eliminations and two city services.

The budget is a response to already-done and expected slashings of Local Government Aid. Last December, the state unexpectedly cut $13 million from the city’s pockets, a hole Minneapolis filled with reserves. Another $17 million cut is expected when the state budget is adopted later this year.

Without shifting around money, Rybak said the state’s cuts would have eliminated 27 positions with the city Fire Department and 76 with the Police Department. Commercial inspection fees saved 21 of those Fire Department positions — six would be eliminated, although they currently already are unfilled — and the federal influx is saving all police jobs.

"Next time someone asks what the [federal] Recovery Act will do, I want you to start by telling them it will keep 57 police officers working," Rybak said.

There is a caveat, however: Those federal dollars are a one-time source. While the mayor said they could be stretched over 18 months of use, other solutions will have to be found if the city’s economic conditions don’t improve.

More current is the proposal of 59 job eliminations. Twenty-seven of those are managerial positions, something Rybak said was deliberate because of their greater incomes. The Public Works Department would take the greatest hit, with 11 positions cut, while the city coordinator’s office would lose 10 positions.

Of the total eliminated positions, 26 already are vacant, while 33 people would lose their jobs. They would be eligible for the city’s job bank, which helped most people who lost their jobs in 2003 to later return, Rybak said.

Also lost in the mayor’s budget would be two city services, the Health Department lab and the Civil Rights Department’s complaints investigation unit. Complaints investigations would be wrapped into a similar unit run by the state, Rybak said.

The proposals are in line with what the mayor heard citizens say they wanted at a pair of community meetings held earlier in February. Citizens who spoke considered public safety and infrastructure top priorities; online survey results also showed police and fire services as the top issues. Those were the top priorities of the original 2009 budget, and they remain the priorities for the new budget, Rybak said.

He also took into account what he heard at two city employee meetings, where suggestions included doing more with less technology and reconsidering overtime. Both ideas made it into the mayor’s new budget. He said the city will initiate an audit of all of the city’s top users of overtime to ensure money is being spent responsibly.

"We can’t afford a single dollar misspent on overtime, especially in these times," Rybak said.

At the end of his presentation, the mayor warned that the 2010 budget, to be unveiled later this year, is likely to be worse — possibly much worse. The city is preparing for a possible $35 million aid cut from the state, which the mayor equated to 329 jobs. To mitigate the pain, he said the city must fight for fairer Local Government Aid cuts, must find a way to hang onto more of sales taxes currently being sent to the state and must reform its three closed pension funds.

"We have a serious challenge ahead of us," he said.

The budget will move to the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. Budget adoption by the full City Council is set for March 11.