Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak wants to hire more police and firefighters next year, while raising the city's property tax levy by 1.7 percent. In his 2013 budget speech Wednesday, Rybak outlined his spending priorities for next year, which are focused on public safety.
Rybak's budget proposal totals about $1.1 billion, which is 3 percent lower than the current year's budget, according to his office.
Rybak's plan would give an additional $2.5 million to the police department, and would put about 10 more officers on the street by next summer.
It also calls for an increase in the fire department budget of $1.1 million. That means the city would be able to hire its first class of rookie firefighters in five years. The fire department is planning for a class of about 15.
Both departments have aging work forces. The average Minneapolis firefighter is 46 years old, and Rybak said if the city doesn't start hiring new recruits, it could be hit by a tidal wave of retirements.
"When the economy picks up, we could very easily see what many people in different employment circles are calling a silver tsunami, where we have a huge loss of employees," said Rybak. "We have to be prepared for that. So this investment is about making sure that we look forward in fire and in police to make sure that we hire the next wave of people who are going to be protecting us."
The 1.7 percent property tax levy increase is one of the smallest Rybak has ever proposed. But he said the tax hike could have been twice that size.
"If you add up this budget -- especially adding the new spending for firefighters and police, the investments in infrastructure and growing the tax base -- if we passed it all in property taxes, it would lead to an increase in property taxes of 3.4 percent," Rybak said. "But because you passed the stadium package, council, we have $5 million in property tax relief."
The stadium deal gives Minneapolis control over several local sales and hospitality taxes that currently pay for the debt on the downtown Convention Center. Once that debt is retired, some of the money will go to the Vikings stadium and some will go toward the Target Center, which the city currently subsidizes through property taxes.
Council Member Gary Schiff opposed the stadium deal. Still, he said he hopes the council will be able to come up with a budget that doesn't increase taxes at all.
"A couple years ago the mayor proposed a 7.4 percent property tax hike. The council cut it in half, down to a 4.7 percent increase," said Schiff. "So this 1.7 percent could end up being zero by the time the Ways & Means Committee is finished looking at the budget."
But Betsy Hodges, the chair of that committee, said that's unlikely, even though the city did hold the levy flat in the last budget.
"I could be political and say, 'Well, we'll try and get there.' Last year was an anolmaly because of pension reform. We could afford to do that because of pension reform," she said.
Minneapolis saved $20 million this year, because its police and firefighter pension funds became part of a state pension system.
The only significant spending cut Rybak detailed in his budget speech was a reorganization of the Department of Regulatory Services. He said the proposed changes would make the city more business friendly and save between $300,000 and $400,000 a year.
The reorganization would eliminate three management positions, and increase regulatory services fees by 3 percent, according to the mayor's offic.
Rybak's speech kicks off the four-month budgeting process for city leaders. The City Council is scheduled to approve the city's 2013 budget in mid-December.