Budget revisions a starting point for policing cuts

Proposals far lower than activists’ goals

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano speaking at a listening session on policing in 2017. Photo by Dylan Thomas

The city of Minneapolis still needs to make nearly $100 million in budget cuts to account for revenue lost amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the mayor and City Council are unlikely to meet that figure by dramatically slashing police funding.

Activist groups like Reclaim the Block have called for city leaders to strip $45 million from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) this year, but so far budget changes proposed by Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council would cut less than $700,000 from policing.

“I think the cuts will be less in dollar amount than what folks are asking for in this budget,” Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10) told constituents at a virtual community meeting hosted by the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.

Frey’s revised budget proposal calls for a $50,000 cut to the MPD, mostly eliminating a new program that tracks pawn shop sales of stolen goods. Members of the City Council, who have budget authority, have approved amendments that would take an additional $605,000 from the MPD’s 2020 budget and redirect it mostly to the Health Department and the Office of Violence Prevention.

Council Member Alondra Cano (Ward 9) proposed the largest MPD cut, in an amendment to reallocate $500,000 in police funding to the Office of Violence Prevention to train and fund neighborhood patrol groups.

“Folks feel this is the time to be given the resources and tools to do what they find works,” Cano said. Her amendment passed 9-2, with council members Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) and Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) opposed.

Just over $100,000 would be taken from the MPD to support programs combating HIV/AIDS, supporting healthy living in low-income housing and providing youth services in Cedar-Riverside under amendments proposed by Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2).

More changes to the MPD’s budget could be coming. Council Member Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4) said he plans to introduce amendments on July 24 shifting dollars from the MPD to the Office of Violence Prevention. The amendments would fund five teams of violence mediators across the city and fund two additional staff positions within the office. He also proposed funding to help the office connect with those likely to commit violent crime. The amendments would total about $1.5 million.

“We have the opportunity to identify what’s working and scale it up,” Cunningham said.

Council Member Steve Fletcher (Ward 3) said he plans to bring four additional amendments that will integrate MPD functions like communications and records management with the larger city apparatus but did not indicate the budget impact of those moves.

Palmisano, who chairs the budget committee and voted against all proposals cutting MPD funding this year, said the revised 2020 budget is not the place for large structural changes and urged her colleagues to save major moves for the 2021 budget process, which will begin in August.

“We can’t, as a City Council, be doing things separately from the mayor’s office right now” she said.

About 80% of MPD costs come from payroll, Palmisano said, and she’s concerned about the cumulative impact of making cuts to first responders. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5) noted that MPD staff numbers are far below the 888 officers budgeted for in 2020 and said the council should “right-size” the department’s finances to current staffing level to free up spending elsewhere. About 65 officers have left the department so far this year, according to the Star Tribune, and more than 100 officers are out on medical leave. Ron Mauser Jr., a local attorney, has said he is processing nearly 200 post-traumatic stress disorder claims from MPD officers.  

Citywide cuts

With the pandemic decimating typical city revenues driven by Downtown visitors, the city will be making cuts across the board.

“Making it through this crisis will require sacrifice from every member of this enterprise,” Frey said.

Actions taken at the onset of the crisis, like a wage and hiring freeze, helped patch a portion of the projected $156 million revenue shortfall, but there remain about $98 million worth of cuts to make, according to budget director Micah Intermill.

Frey’s proposed revisions call for saving about $4 million via voluntary furloughs and payroll reductions, patching the budget using $57.7 million in cash reserves and eliminating about $23 million in one-time spending for 2020.

“This will cut directly at some of the most visible work of the city,” Intermill said.

It could take multiple years for the city to recover from COVID-19-related budget shortfalls, he said.

Goodman said she felt the mayor’s proposal called for too many shifts and not enough cuts and that the city shouldn’t put itself in a situation where it’s pressured to raise property taxes during a crisis. She suggested holding money from the 20-year street improvement plan for savings.

“Maybe for two to three years, we shouldn’t be doing capital improvement projects,” Goodman said.

Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said the department will be finishing projects that have started but that it will be thinking about work planned for 2021 “in a very different way.”

Council members amending the mayor’s proposed budget sought to use unused funds in various city departments to patch planned cuts to programs dedicated to combating payday lending, preserving affordable housing and increasing training for the fire department.

“The reality is there are no easy answers,” Intermill said.

The City Council is expected to vote on the revised budget on July 24.