Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced Monday he will not ask city departments to cut their budgets next year. It's a surprise, considering that state funding to cities has dropped in the past year, and may do so again in 2011.
Rybak's proposed 2011 budget also increases spending on pothole repair. However, for property owners the news comes with a pricetag -- a 6.5 percent increase in property taxes.
Mayor R.T. Rybak says in spite of the dismal national economy, Minneapolis is doing relatively well. It's a statement he could have cut and pasted from his last two budget addresses. As in past years, Rybak claims that sound financial planning has set the city on steady ground.
But this year, the city has also benefitted from legislative action and a court decision which offered some relief from the city's pension fund obligations. However, Rybak says taxpayers will still feel the pinch from the city's obligation to pay into two closed retirement funds.
"Were it not for that $17.7 million in pension obligations, I would be proposing a .1 percent decrease in property taxes this year," said Rybak.
Instead, Rybak is proposing a 6.5 percent tax hike. However, he's calling it a pension levy -- to point out where the money is going. Despite the term, Rybak says the levy will still have same impact on property taxpayers.
Rybak's 2011 budget also proposes $90 million in spending over the next five years to patch potholes. In past years, city efforts to accelerate road and bridge repair have been sidetracked in favor of spending on public safety.
"We've put the needs of our infrastructure on hold as we've tried to continue to make our city safer," Rybak said. "That was what we needed to do in a crisis, but it is not sustainable."
Despite a sharp increase in homicides this year compared to last year, Rybak did not propose to increase the police department budget.
Rybak called the recent killing of a 17-year-old boy "heinous." But he also added that overall, violent crime in the city is up just three-quarters of a percent from last year -- and violence is still down nearly 15 percent from where it was in 2008.
V.J. Smith is the head of MAD DADS, a group that does street outreach in an attempt to keep young people away from violent crime. Smith says he's pleased the mayor didn't propose any cuts to the police budget. When asked where city dollars are needed the most, Smith says he'd like to see more counselors out in communities hardest hit by violence.
"People are damaged from grief and trauma. People are damaged from the abuse," said Smith. "And in our inner-city communities, we're being told to just get up and keep moving. But it's hard to do that. So you go from just needing some mental help to needing some other help."
Mayor Rybak and other city officials will need to get the money they expect from the state to make the 2011 budget proposal work. The city is expecting $87 million in local government aid. However, in past years, the state has cut back on money for cities. If that happens again, city officials will have to redo the budget, again.