Neighborhood funding is ‘tough work’

Last month, the City Council voted to partially freeze NRP funding.

Trevor Born

For 20 years the Neighborhood Revitalization Program has funded Minneapolis neighborhood initiatives, like home improvement loans and community engagement, with limited interference from the City Council.

Now itâÄôs the 2011 CouncilâÄôs primary headache.

The task was already tall for this year, with the NRP in the last year of its charter and the Council folding many of its duties into a new Neighborhood and Community Relations Department.

But things got a lot more complicated last month, when the Council voted to partially freeze the NRP funds in order to keep down property taxes. The move, which was put together quickly after taxpayer protest over proposed hikes, created a new layer of tension between the Council and neighborhoods.

In response, the Council formally voted to create a Neighborhood Funding Work Group on Friday âÄî a somewhat rare occurrence in the Council, which usually works on similar problems through informal groups and meetings âÄî to interpret its own directives for changing neighborhood funding.

Perhaps the trickiest issue facing the group is its task to move “forward with an emphasis on mitigating equity issues among neighborhoods related to the suspension of new contracts.” The move had a varying impact on neighborhoods because it didnâÄôt freeze funds already contracted out.

For example, Marcy Holmes already contracted all of its funds by the time of the Council vote, so it wonâÄôt lose any money, while Nokomis East neighborhood had $810,000 left to spend and can now only spend half.

It will be difficult to spread the loss equally since it would entail asking some neighborhoods to return money or forego funding in future years.

“Finding equity will be a large challenge, because there isnâÄôt a lot of agreement on what equity is,” said Council Vice President Robert Lilligren, who is part of the work group. “Some say it means equal shares for everyone, some say greater need should bring greater resources. We have tough work in front of us.”

Funding for neighborhoods when the NRP expires is in place through the new NCR, but its $3 million to dole out in 2011 is much leaner than the $20 million NRP dispersed annually.

The NRP doesnâÄôt have a representative on the work group because itâÄôs not part of City Council, and has its own decisions to make moving forward. The program will decide between three potential options at its policy meeting Monday, according to Director Bob Miller.

âÄì Accept the CouncilâÄôs decision and not fight it, since its days are numbered anyway.

âÄì Pursue a legal injunction or restraining order against the Council, either on its own behalf or help with a certain neighborhood building a case.

âÄì Ask the state Legislature to stop the funding freeze.

“WeâÄôre not sure what direction weâÄôre going to take, and itâÄôs a tough situation,” Miller said. “I donâÄôt think the City Council has really thought about the implications of what they did. We now have 39 neighborhoods that canâÄôt spend a dime.”