Reduced budget proposed for city reeling from pandemic

Mayor Jacob Frey
Mayor Jacob Frey

The city of Minneapolis will be doing less with less in 2021 under a proposed budget that aims to maintain core services and continue investments in affordable housing while reeling from revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and damage sustained during the civil unrest.

Mayor Jacob Frey has proposed a $1.47 billion budget for 2021 — a 6% decrease from an already diminished 2020 budget that had been revised down to account for massive revenue losses brought on by the pandemic.

“Under the weight of the pandemic and on the heels of civil unrest following George Floyd’s killing, our city’s finances are under severe duress,” Frey said.

Minneapolis typically receives 55% of its revenue from parking, entertainment tax and other fees generated from hundreds of thousands of people coming to the city to work and recreate. The pandemic has decreased those funding sources by about 32%, Frey said, and the mayor does not want to offset those losses with a property tax increase. Furthermore, 2021 will see the city’s local government aid funding from the state drop by 5%, or $26 million.

Frey is recommending the citywide hiring freeze continue and wants to incentivize early retirements for the oldest staff members. The mayor wants to boost affordable housing funding by $7 million, with additions to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the transformation of the Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative into a permanent program.

Under the mayor’s proposal, all city departments outside of Health would see a decrease in funding. Major cuts would come from Community Planning and Economic Development (a 28% cut from $58 million to $41.7 million), Debt Service (a 20% cut from $151 million to $120.4 million) and the Minneapolis Convention Center (a 15% cut from $118.6 million to $100.5 million).

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) would see just a 7.4% cut under Frey’s proposal from $193 million to $178.7 million. The department’s funding has been the subject of much debate since Floyd’s death.

Ultimately, the budget is controlled by the City Council, not the mayor, and it’s unclear how much the body will deviate from Frey’s recommendation.

Addressing the City Council on Oct. 8, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department will be “one-dimensional” in 2021, needing to focus on only patrol and investigation while making major cuts to specialized crime-fighting units.

Arradondo’s plan calls for no additional layoffs at the MPD but would leave many of the city’s police vacancies unfilled. There has been an “unprecedented” level of attrition since Floyd’s death and the subsequent civil unrest, Arradondo said. The department now has fewer than 750 sworn officers and is down to 531 officers who respond to calls for service, a decrease of 73 cops on the street. The chief said the attrition brings about $8 million in payroll savings but will require about $3 million in additional overtime costs to cover shifts.

“The department is shrinking; that is true and that is significant,” Arradondo said.

Some council members said the declining police force presents an opportunity to use a different response model to nonviolent calls while reserving police for more serious crimes.

“I think it’s really important that our police department can focus on [preventing] violence,” said Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10), who believes that, with fewer people coming to Minneapolis to work and play during the pandemic, the city should shift public safety resources to breaking cycles of retaliatory violence.

Others felt that shift ignores the rise in violent and property crime the city has experienced in 2020.

“People are afraid, and they want more public safety, not less,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7), who emphasized the importance of the “perception of safety.”

Since Floyd’s death, groups of residents have pressured city officials to defund or make cuts to the MPD to fund a public safety program more oriented toward public health and to free up more money for housing and violence prevention.

Many council members are keen on increasing alternatives to sending armed officers to nonviolent, non-emergency calls.

“We all agree that policing isn’t the only solution to these issues,” Bender said.

The council seemed receptive to Arradondo’s proposal to permanently fund the co-responder program, which pairs mental health professionals and officers responding to crisis calls. The program has previously been funded using one-time allocations; Arradondo is proposing $455,000 for the program on an annual basis and using an additional $230,000 in 2021 to hire six mental health professionals from Hennepin County. Council Members Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) and Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said they would like to see the co-responder program expanded further.

The budget committee is continuing to hold meetings with department leaders through November and will amend the mayor’s proposal before approving a final plan in December.