Civic beat // Rybaks budget calls for a 1.7percent tax levy hike

Mayor R.T. Rybak on Aug. 15 proposed a 2013 city of Minneapolis budget that would raise the property tax levy by 1.7 percent. 

Rybak, in his annual budget speech before the City Council, said that without the Vikings stadium package passed in May the property tax levy would have increased by 3.4 percent. The city will use $5 million from sales tax to fund the Target Center, which had been paid for through property taxes before the stadium deal passed. 

Kevin Carpenter, the city’s chief financial officer, said preliminary estimates showed about 70 percent of residential property owners would actually see the city portion of their taxes decrease. He said residential property had lost value in the past year more than commercial property.

Carpenter added, however, that the city was still running numbers on how much a 1.7-percent increase would affect owners of homes that have kept their value or gained value. Many Southwest-area homes have maintained their value through the recession. 

Rybak’s budget would increase funding for the Police Department by $2.5 million and the Fire Department by $1.1 million.

It’s worth noting that just because Rybak proposed a 1.7-percent increase doesn’t mean that the City Council will eventually adopt a 1.7-percent increase. Council members will spend most of the fall discussing and making changes to Rybak’s budget. 

Last year, Rybak proposed a 2-percent tax levy increase, but the City Council eventually adopted a zero-percent increase. In 2010, Rybak proposed a 6.5-percent increase, but he and the City Council later agreed on a 4.7-percent hike. 

City Council Member Betsy Hodges (Ward 13) chairs the city’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee. Last year, Hodges committee helped pare down the property tax levy hike from 2 percent to zero. This year, she said, she doesn’t think such a reduction will be possible. 

“I could be political and say, well, we’ll try and get there,” Hodges said. “Last year was an anomaly because of pension reform.” 

Hodges said she was concerned about the 2014 budget process, which she expected to be more arduous than this year’s. She said she wasn’t sure if a 1.7-percent increase this year would position the city properly to deal with next year’s budget. 

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to pass a budget on Dec. 12

City committee votes in favor of Linden Hills developer 

A city committee on Aug. 23 voted in favor of a Linden Hills developer’s request to avoid the moratorium on neighborhood development so that he can continue with a proposal to build a 60-unit apartment building at 45th & France.

Neighbors probably remember the project as the five-level Sunnyside Flats development. It was introduced in March, prior to the City Council-imposed moratorium on large-scale development in Linden Hills. The city’s Planning Commission denied that project.  

The developer, Scott Carlston, withdrew his appeal of the Commission’s decision and changed his proposal slightly. Carlston is no longer seeking to add commercial space on the first floor and he reduced the building’s proposed height to four stories from five. The new project is called France Avenue Apartments.

The Zoning and Planning Committee supported Carlston’s waiver request on a 4-to-2 vote. Lisa Goodman, Gary Schiff, Kevin Reich and Barb Johnson voted in favor of the developer. Meg Tuthill and Cam Gordon voted against the waiver request.

The City Council was scheduled to vote on the request Aug. 31. 

If Carlston’s waiver request is approved, he will still need to go through the regular development process, which includes public hearings and votes by the Planning Commission and City Council.

Carlston, in his request for a waiver, said his project should be grandfathered-in since he proposed a similar project before the one-year moratorium was in place. 

Several neighbors at the Aug. 23 meeting spoke against the waiver request, saying that the community needs a breather after the contentious battle over the Linden Corner development proposal, a few blocks away at 43rd & Upton.

“The moratorium gives us all a reprieve from this conflict,” said Larry LaVercombe, the chair of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee. “It gives us time to consider what’s wise development for this neighborhood.”

The city staff report recommended the Zoning and Planning Committee grant Carlston the waiver. Schiff, the committee chair, agreed with the staff recommendation. 

“I think it’s very crucial that this committee today send a message that we do not use moratoriums to target specific developers,” he said. “We don’t use them to play gotcha with developers who are listening to the Planning Commission, which denied their original request, and are now coming back with a smaller project with no commercial.”

Betsy Hodges, who is not a member of the committee, but represents the neighborhood, spoke out against the waiver, saying that the developer chose to withdraw his appeal, even though he knew the moratorium was in place. 

“It was clear to the applicant at the time that withdrawing [the appeal] means an entirely new application, and it’s an entirely new project that would fall under the moratorium,” she said.