Minneapolis officials plan city budget cuts

Shira Kantor

Department heads filed into Minneapolis City Council chambers Monday, burdened with the knowledge that the state has a problem. And they’re going to have to help fix it.

The council – which is faced with trimming another 3.5 percent from an already slimmed city budget – heard cost-saving proposals at Monday’s budget meeting underscoring the extent of the current state recession.

The outlined cuts are in response to a proposed cut in local government aid from the state – a $15 million reduction in city funds set to affect virtually all departments. Eleven million dollars of that would come from the city’s general fund.

“It seems like the state is cutting our budget, yet we’re doing more and more of the state’s work,” said 10th Ward City Council member Dan Niziolek.

City departments were earlier asked to eliminate 2.2 percent from Minneapolis’ 2002 budget, making the added cuts even more stressful.

Many of the suggestions entailed eliminating positions in city government, several of which are currently vacant.

City Attorney Jay Heffern dropped four full-time positions and one part-time position, saving more than $260,000 to meet his general fund cuts and the anticipated loss of state aid.

The Department of Civil Rights – which eliminated $39,000 in personnel costs last month – cut its added 3.5 percent by trimming $20,000 in equipment and supplies and cutting a recently vacated $62,000 position.

The city assessor and the planning department also presented plans for personnel reduction to offset budget strain.

While none of the department representatives were pleased to have to adjust their spending priorities, the director of the Department of Public Works, David Sonnenberg, portrayed the effects of his department’s cuts as particularly grim.

“We see this as extremely critical to the point of desperate times,” Sonnenberg said.

His proposals, which target several public services, were also among the least warmly received in the council.

He said the city might have to slice many of its basic infrastructure initiatives, including removing approximately 40 streetlights, scaling back street painting, sign work and some bridge and street maintenance.

He said citizens and officials should not be surprised when projects – even simple repairs – have to be put off for lack of funding.

“The response you’ll have in the future is, ‘It’ll go on the list,'” Sonnenberg said. “That’s all I can promise you.”

Seventh Ward City Council member Lisa Goodman challenged Sonnenberg’s proposed cuts, saying the department – which, at nearly $225 million, has one of the highest budgets – should avoid scrimping in areas where public welfare is at stake.

“(You’re) nickel-and-diming us to death,” Goodman said, referring to the many minor cuts to infrastructure.

She suggested looking at larger reforms, such as consolidating public works offices and selling properties to the private sector.

Monday’s meeting was only one component in the budget battle the city currently wages.

Last week, the city implemented a nearly across-the-board hiring and promotion freeze to deal with the budget shortfall.

And the council narrowly passed Mayor R.T. Rybak’s budget-adjusted salary proposal last week, with five council members abstaining.

The Ways and Means/Budget Committee reconvenes Friday to continue budget discussions.