Despite protests over prop. tax levy, Minneapolis passes 2011 budgetby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Minneapolis city council approved a controversial 2011 budget Monday night by a vote of 10-3, one leaner than the mayor's original proposal. But some city residents disagree on whether the cuts were enough, or whether they were too much.
Dozens of people braved icy roads and subzero temperatures to come to City Hall and tell leaders what they thought about the proposed 2011 budget.
About two dozen property tax protesters gathered outside City Hall to express their feelings in song. The caroling protesters are part of a group called Minneapolis Tax Payers United. The group says the 4.7 percent proposed property tax levy increase is too much.
Their demonstration attracted the attention of Mayor R.T. Rybak, who popped out to say hello. Rybak told members of the group that he's trying to do everything he can to get control of the budget.
Protestor Kris Broberg wasn't convinced.
"Eight straight years of maximum levy increases. That's doing everything you can to keep the budget in control," Broberg said.
Broberg said his property taxes are slated to go up over 17 percent from last year. He challenged the mayor to do something about that.
"I'm going to be paying more than my mortgage price in taxes within two years at the rate you're going," he said to Rybak. "It's up to you to solve it. It's not up to us. It's up to you! We elected you guys.
Rybak said he agreed and invited Broberg to his office to "talk about the options."
Broberg and the group didn't take the mayor up on his offer. Instead, they joined the crowd of other frustrated tax payers in council chambers for the truth-in-taxation hearing.
While the budget proposal offered a reduction in the hike from 6.5 percent to 4.7 percent, most of the 75 or so people who spoke at the four-hour long hearing criticized city leaders for offering any tax increase.
And many of them, like Doug Johnson, told council members that they can't keep up with the last several years of tax hikes.
"We like our house. We'd like to stay in Minneapolis, but it looks like we're going to get pushed out," Johnson said. "And it seems to me that the middle class is no longer welcome in this city."
A smaller number of people who testified at the hearing spoke out against a plan to restrict some of the funds allocated to neighborhood groups under the Neighborhood Revitalization Program or NRP.
The plan would freeze a portion of dollars that were allocated to neighborhoods, but not designated for specific projects. The money, about $11 million, would be dedicated to help ease the property tax burden in 2012 and 2013.
Under that plan, neighborhoods like Hawthorne in north Minneapolis could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. The group's housing director, Jeff Skrenes, said the loss of the funds could put him out of work. But he said that's not why he came to speak.
"I'm here to speak to save NRP because of what NRP has done for the Hawthorne neighborhood and throughout north Minneapolis," Skrenes said. "We've used it to buy police buyback hours to get extra patrols; to buy streetlights for the neighborhood."
The 2011 budget and tax levy passed 10-3. Under the budget, the city will forgo spending $1.1 million in capital improvements for Target Center, it will reduce the Park Board's levy by $2 million, and the city will eliminate the public housing authority's levy for the next two years. That's estimated to save $1.4 million. The city will also seek to freeze employee salaries for two years.
The budget also includes a plan B to adjust for a cut in state aid next year. Under that plan, the city will cut $9 million from the city's road repair budget and force layoffs in the fire department.
Later this week, the St. Paul City Council will vote on its proposed 2011 budget and tax levy. Mayor Chris Coleman has proposed a zero percent property tax levy.
- Morning Edition, 12/14/2010, 7:25 a.m.