The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday approved next year's budget after a lengthy delay, during which protesters urged officials to stop sending people to prison on minor violations of their supervised release.
The commissioners went into recess soon after the meeting began because of the protesters and didn't return to the room to resume the meeting until 90 minutes later.
The board then passed the $2.4 billion budget on a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Jeff Johnson being the lone dissenter. It will be funded in part with a 5.2 percent increase in the property tax levy, slightly lower than the maximum levy proposed earlier this year. The net tax levy will raise $830 million.
A group of about 40 members of the Decarcerate MN Coalition showed up for the meeting in hopes of stopping parole officers from recommending prison time for people with a technical violation of their supervised release, such as missing a meeting with a supervising officer or failing a drug test. They requested that commissioners ask the state Department of Corrections to release all Hennepin County residents currently incarcerated on technical violations by Dec. 24.
Supervised release is the state's version of parole, meaning that the individual is out of prison early but being supervised in the community.
As soon as Board Chairwoman Jan Callison called the meeting to order, members of the group stood up and began speaking. Callison asked them to stop, since there was no public comment period on the agenda. When they refused, Callison called the recess and commissioners left the room.
The protesters remained but later left. When commissioners returned, Callison said it was important to follow protocol. "To demand to have something placed in the agenda at the last minute is simply not the way that we proceed in Hennepin County," she said.
Finalizing the budget took less than 10 minutes. Priorities in the 2019 budget include child protection services, reduction of racial disparities, preserving affordable housing and transportation projects.
More than $1 million was cut from the Sheriff's Office budget following negotiations last week.
Johnson said he was concerned about having another "significant property tax increase" and that the county was spending money where it wasn't necessary.
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it was critical that the county continue to support child protection. "That's not an area that we can walk away from, not an area we should walk away from and it's not an area that we have walked away from," McLaughlin said.
While supportive of the new budget, both Callison and Commissioner Mike Opat expressed some reservations.
"I don't think this is a great budget," Opat said. But he added that voting down the budget "should be reserved for pretty extreme circumstances, and it's not that extreme for me."