Minneapolis City Council eases cuts for police, fire departments

The council’s budget chopping came as a response due partly to proposed cuts in local government aid.

TBy Joe Mahon

The Minneapolis City Council slashed $20 million from its 2003 budget Thursday, but with lower cuts than expected for the police and fire departments.

The action was a response to proposed cuts in local government aid from the state, which would total $80 million over the next two years, with a $25 million reduction for 2003.

Minneapolis already faced budget difficulties before the state announced its cuts. The city passed a plan to cut $55 million during the next five years and has already reached its self-imposed limit on property tax increases for this year.

The proposal encountered opposition from the police and fire departments, which would have faced 8 percent and 9 percent funding cuts, respectively.

Minneapolis firefighter Shawn Klanke said the department’s budget is already thin and the city would cut personnel.

“You can’t go to a fire with two people on a rig; you can’t go to a heart attack with two people on a rig,” she said.

Klanke said the Minneapolis Fire Department serves 46 cities outside Minneapolis, which will also suffer inferior service. She said the department is exploring measures to raise new revenue, such as placing advertisements on fire trucks – which Red Wing, Minn., already does.

Before the meeting Thursday morning, firefighters picketed outside City Hall. Community and business groups also opposed the public safety funding cuts.

In response to this pressure, council member Gary Schiff, 9th Ward, who represents the Powderhorn, Longfellow and Corcoran neighborhoods, introduced an alternative budget with fewer reductions to police and fire funding, allowing them to keep an extra $1 million each.

The council passed the alternative proposal, which cut the city budget by the same amount as the original plan but included larger cuts for other city departments, including Public Works and Civil Rights.

Before the measure passed, council member Robert Lilligren, 8th Ward, who represents the Phillips neighborhood, added amendments that would limit community policing cuts to 50 percent and require all departments to get council approval by April 1 for any layoffs.

Some council members opposed those amendments.

“Given what I’ve seen here today, I cannot help but get the feeling we’re headed toward a financial abyss,” said Barret Lane, 13th Ward, who represents the city’s southwest corner.

All city departments must devise new spending plans and present them to the City Council by April 1.

The plans will be in effect by May 1.

The state will reduce local government aid by $55 million for 2004.

“This is just a dress rehearsal for next year,” Lilligren said.

Joe Mahon covers University

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