Budget approval may not spare Minneapolis librariesby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved the mayor's 2007 budget on Monday night. Included in the $1.3 billion package is money for crime-fighting measures, like adding 43 new police officers and buying more security cameras. The City Council also included additional money to keep some libraries open. However, Library Board members say it may not be enough.
St. Paul, Minn. — When Mayor R.T. Rybak announced his budget in August, he proclaimed that his top priority was public safety. So Rybak says he was particularly pleased that throughout Council deliberations, none of the nearly $200 million he proposed for public safety was eliminated.
"This is a budget that says this is a safe place to call home," Rybak said.
The most controversial part of the budget involved finding money for the Library Board. Earlier this year the members of the library's Board of Trustees concluded that they didn't have enough money to keep all 15 libraries open in 2007, and they voted to close three. The mayor and Council initially offered $1.1 million -- $250,000 of which would be permanent --- to help them through 2007.
But the Council made a last-minute change and made the $250,000 only a one-time payment.
"We're debating whether we should take back money that the Ways and Means Committee allocated last Wednesday. I really didn't expect to be in that position right now," said Council Member Gary Schiff, who disagreed with his colleagues who decided that the city should wait to allocate any permanent or ongoing dollars until the board comes up with a long-term funding strategy.
Schiff says if the goal is to help the Library Board keep all of its branches open, then the city should make a solid financial commitment.
"Because it's ongoing money that is most valuable to our libraries," Schiff said. "Ongoing is the most valuable. So this is not an action that we should be worried (about). Talk about sending messages, this is a blow. This is operating money they use to hire staff and keep buildings open. You don't hire staff with one-time money."
Schiff also argued that the Library Board had already counted on the $250,000 when they made another request for $105,000. Board members said that would guarantee that the three libraries on the chopping block could stay open, albeit at limited hours.
The Council did include the extra $105,000, but they also decided to drop another part of the deal that would have added $925,000 per year to library budgets from 2007 to 2016. A city official says that money is still available, if the board decides to use the $1.2 million to pay down debt as part of a long-term funding plan.
However, this and other changes appeared to take library trustees by surprise. The board had included that $925,000 in its $24.8 million budget.
Library Board President Anita Duckor says she doesn't know if they'll be able to balance their budget, much less be able to use the one-time dollars to keep the three libraries open.
"It's a very, very difficult decision for me personally," Duckor said. "It's very hard for me to sit there and talk about hiring people, when I know I don't have a commitment to keep them employed. And then the other question is: how many other people are even going to be interested in having those jobs, if they don't think they're permanent jobs?"
While Library Board members fretted over what do with less money than they thought they would have, some City Council members tried to cheer them up with optimistic talk about the 2007 legislative session.
Council Member Paul Ostrow pointed to changes at the state Capitol that will place Minneapolis-friendly DFLers in positions of power. Ostrow and other City Council members say these new powerbrokers will fight for more LGA dollars for the city.
"If local government aid would be increased $100 million, that may be ambitious and certainly there's going to be some heavy lobbying about that. The city of Minneapolis gets about $14 to $15 million of that. The Library Board gets about 8 percent. That would increase library funding by $1.2 million dollars," Ostrow said.
The Library Board will meet next week to discuss its budget woes.
Homeowners in Minneapolis will also feel a pinch. The 2007 budget includes an 8-percent hike in property taxes. City officials say for a home valued at $225,000, the owner would pay $165 more per year.
- Morning Edition, 12/12/2006, 7:20 a.m.