Health costs up double-digits in 2003by Cathy Wurzer, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak proposes boosting city spending by $19 million in next year's $1.24 billion budget. That translates to an extra $100 for residents with homes worth a little over $200,000. But the increase is not enough to avoid losing positions in the police department.
Rybak called the mix of spending cuts and tax increases a balanced approach to close a $25 million gap between revenue and the desire to maintain existing services.
"The budget I'm bringing forward will be able to say that we will be able to avoid layoffs in the year 2005 and have a minimal number of position eliminations," Rybak said.
An 8 percent tax levy increase means the city is collecting an extra $14 million from residents. Three-quarters of that is consumed by debt to cover the city's pension funds, a long-standing deficit and payments for the downtown library referendum. The rest goes to city departments.
Rybak said he looked under every rock to find ways to avoid laying off 43 officers this year, as was originally proposed. He patched together a variety of sources to save all but nine police jobs. He hopes retirement incentives will take care of the rest.
He didn't take the blame for all the police cuts in recent years. Rybak, a Democrat, said cities are bearing the brunt of state and federal cuts, including the near elimination of the Clinton era program to partially fund local police positions.
"In the past year Cleveland has laid off 250 police officers," Rybak said. "Pittsburgh has lost 25 percent of its police force over the past three years. And in Los Angeles they've laid off 1,200 deputies in two years. That's led them to close jails and release inmates early. We are not in an isolated situation."
Rybak's budget now goes to the City Council. Ninth Ward Council Member Gary Schiff credited the mayor for finding the money to save 32 police positions. But Schiff said he'll continue to look for money to avoid any police job cuts.
"I think the job for the Council now in the next couple months is to fine-tune this proposal and not eliminate those nine police positions and get another new recruit class so we can maintain the level of public safety we have today," Schiff said.
Second Ward Council Member Barb Johnson also pointed to two additional budgetary pressures that she said can't hold forever. One is the cap on employee wage increases. The other is the eight percent property tax levy increase, which she unsuccessfully tried to trim last year.
"I will probably try to do that again because I think that is really high," Johnson said. "The other thing I think is a challenge in this budget long term and in the five year plan long term is limited staff increases to 2 percent. Our unions are going to be coming to us and telling us, I am sure, that is not sustainable for them."
Johnson called the effort to keep police positions 'progress'. This is Rybak's third budget address. The Council is scheduled to vote on a final budget in December.