Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has made improving racial equity her number-one goal, but she's made few concrete proposals to achieve it. That may change Thursday when she gives her first budget address.
In preparing for the speech, Hodges asked all city departments what they could do to "move the dial on equity" and what it would cost. Whether the recommendations get funding is up to Hodges and the city council. Here are some of the ideas:
1. City Hall on wheels
Emulating an idea pioneered in Boston, the city's non-emergency 311 call center wants to take its services on the road in an effort to give more residents access to city services. Employees would gather concerns from residents, answer their questions and educate them about city initiatives. Think of it like a food truck, only instead of bratwurst, this vehicle brings civic engagement to the masses.
2. Property taxpayer education
The city assessor intends to work with "leaders within communities of color to identify issues and barriers they experience within the property tax system" and "provide additional options for educating taxpayers electronically." Unlike other departments, the Assessor's Office is not requesting any additional funds to pursue these initiatives.
3. Free iPads
Cost: $1.5 million
The city's Information Technology department says it could move 1,000 families into the "digital society" by providing them with iPads and a year of free internet access. The proposal also includes two walk-in support centers to help digital novices figure out how to operate the devices.
4. More interns
The Urban Scholars program currently provides full-time paid internships for 25 students to spend a summer working at the city. With a budget increase, the Civil Rights department says it could double the size of the program, which gives job skills to students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
5. Grants to community organizations
The Neighborhood and Community Relations Department would like to double the size of its One Minneapolis fund. The fund provides grants to community and cultural organizations in an effort to groom the next generation of diverse city leaders.
6. More affordable housing
Cost: $3.6 million
The extra money would make up for diminshing federal funding and produce up to 288 units of affordable housing. The Community Planning and Economic Development Department also suggests pumping an additional $2 million into housing for senior citizens.
7. Voter outreach
The City Clerk's office says it needs to hire an elections administrator to pursue "voter outreach, engagement, and education."
8. New police and community service officers
Cost: $1.96 million
The Police Department wants to hire two classes of cadets next year, plus 20 part-time civilian community service officers. The department sees the new recruits as an opportunity to diversify its ranks and make the deparment "more reflective of the community."
9. More public health workers
Racial disparities persist across a wide variety of health problems. The city's Health Department proposes adding staff to educate expectant mothers and young parents about child development. It also wants to increase lead inspections, reduce asthma hospitalizations and prevent tobacco use.
10. Business loans and assistance
The Community Planning and Economic Development department wants more money to give loans and technical assistance to small businesses. Two thirds of the businesses currently participating in the program are minority-owned.