Minneapolis to cut $5.2 million from city budget

by Shira Kantor

The Minneapolis City Council will attempt to slim its budget by $5.2 million Friday, a fiscal belt-tightening that will threaten several departments and services.

After considering individual departments’ proposals to cut a city-mandated 2.2 percent from their budgets – as well as an additional 3.5 percent if state aid doesn’t materialize – Mayor R.T. Rybak presented the City Council with his own proposal to reduce Minneapolis’ general fund by 2.2 percent.

City Council member Barret Lane – who, along with City Council President Paul Ostrow and 4th Ward Council member Barbara Johnson, aided Rybak in drawing up the proposal – said in a budget meeting Monday the strategic cuts were of great importance.

“We must not blink,” said Lane, who represents the city’s 13th Ward. “This is going to be the most significant thing we do in the next four years.”

Among the main points of contention was the mayor’s suggested slicing of the budget for the Civilian Review Authority, which is responsible for monitoring city police.

Rybak’s plan would leave $100,000 of the $457,000 currently in place as a start-up fund for a new version of the program.

City Council members have agreed that the idea of targeted cuts – instead of the across-the-board cut implemented in December to stabilize the city’s financial state – is a positive approach to a dreaded task.

Nearly all city departments will incur significant losses, though the fire and police departments are set to take smaller cuts.

But the Geographic Information System – a sophisticated mapping program to aid emergency first responders in crisis situations or possible terrorist attacks – will not lose any funding. In the December cut, the GIS had been an equal casualty.

Third Ward Council member Joe Biernat said he was against the proposed elimination of the Truth in Sale of Housing Program – an initiative he authored in 1998, which requires homeowners to make repairs on their homes before they are sold. The council is divided on the program’s effectiveness.

“Some of the council is of the frame of mind that there is too much government,” Biernat said. “I am personally tired of that kind of rhetoric.”

Biernat said it is important to keep potential home-buyers informed and protected and said he would rather rework the program in a council committee than kill it altogether.

A proponent for cutting the program was 7th Ward representative Lisa Goodman, who – in Thursday’s nearly four-hour council meeting – said she thought capitalism should fuel housing sales, free of the Truth in Sale of Housing Program’s restrictions.

Citizen outreach services will also receive cuts under the reworked budget. Fewer foreign-language interpreters and customer support clerks will be employed, and cuts in the Civil Rights Department have City Council members worried minorities might not have adequate access to important services.

Additionally, the city still faces a possible 3.5 percent cut if state aid doesn’t come through.

“This is a crucible for all of us,” Rybak told the City Council on Monday. But he said he was encouraged by staff suggestions and hoped the process would unify city officials.

Ostrow said it’s unfortunate what often gets highlighted are the points of contention, when in fact, there are large areas of agreement.

“I think we are even closer to a real strong consensus,” he said. “I am hopeful you will see a real strong majority come together in support of our proposal.”