Residents debate city budget plan

Concerned homeowners rallied to have a say in the upcoming budget.

Anissa Stocks

The 2010 Minneapolis city budget was up for public discussion Thursday night as nearly 40 residents debated how much the city can afford to spend in the upcoming year. Concerned homeowners and advocates for affordable housing and arts education rallied to have a say in the upcoming budget. In a budget that totals $1.3 billion, Mayor R.T. Rybak has recommended an 11.3 percent property-tax increase next year to the dismay of several Minneapolis residents. The average property would feel a 6.6 percent property-tax increase next year under the proposed budget. The budget would also require Minneapolis to cut spending across departments while maintaining city programs such as fire, police and street repair. City officials say most of the property-tax increase would go to pay for rising city pensions, which will cost $25 million in 2010 and double by 2014. The Minneapolis City Council held the public hearing before its budget committee makes recommendations on RybakâÄôs budget, which is an opportunity that residents havenâÄôt had in pevious years. Council members heard from five residents who addressed property-tax issues, calling for accountability and a say in city budgeting. Residents questioned the cityâÄôs tax increase in a down year. Steve Gilbertson said that residents need a break and that council members should consider them when drafting its 2010 budget. âÄúWe really need to send a strong, clear message to residents of Minneapolis and to the business owners of Minneapolis that the city is working on their behalf,âÄù he said. Many residents said spending should be allocated for causes such as affordable housing, arts and culture education, and improved response time for emergency services âÄî without a property-tax increase. Naoma Estes, 86, said her property-tax bill has increased from $600 per month to nearly $3,000 since she moved into her home near Minnehaha Park in the 1960s. âÄúThere should be fixed taxation for seniors âĦ Many of us canâÄôt afford an increase in property taxes,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs not right.âÄù Estes said she is pleading for a shift in property taxation for residents in similar circumstances who have fixed incomes and increasing medical costs. âÄúMy husband died years ago. I am alone dealing with this,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs taken nearly everything I have coming in to pay my [property] taxes.âÄù Deanna Ross said her home near Lake Nokomis took a 17.5 percent tax increase in recent years. âÄúYou have to be accountable to us,âÄù she said. âÄúWe are working hard to stay in our homes, feed our families and pay our other bills.âÄù Ross said the current economy has factored into many residents struggling to come up with the money to pay property-tax bills. Many residents plead to the City Council and the mayor for a revision in property-tax issues. David Sadler, who owns a home on Lake Harriet, said that taxes are compounding at a rate that leaves many property owners unable to afford their payments. âÄúThey simply wonâÄôt be able to stay in the city. ItâÄôll destroy the residential fabric of the city eventually,âÄù he said. âÄúMany fixed-income homeowners are spending 30 to 40 percent of their incomes on property taxes âĦ now we have to be worried about affordable property taxes.âÄù He said if costs arenâÄôt compounded in upcoming years Minneapolis will lose its middle class. In an Aug. 13 speech concerning the cityâÄôs budget, Rybak said that although recession looms high for many residents, Minneapolis is working toward progress. âÄúIn the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression, this city is doing great things, and we will not stop now,âÄù he said. Another public hearing on the budget will be held on Dec. 7, just before the council votes on the budget.