Bridge collapse changes 2008 budget picture

  • Article by: TERRY COLLINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2007 - 9:31 PM

Mayor Rybak will be brief about the city's budget to focus more on bridge matters.

Two weeks ago, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak thought he knew exactly what the city's spending priorities were for next year.

He was preparing to say that paying for police would remain his top priority in the 2008 budget, followed by spending for water treatment, street paving and other infrastructure repairs.

Then, in his words, came the "unimaginable disaster" of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

As a result, today's announcement of a $1.4 billion preliminary budget for 2008 will not be lengthy or detailed.

While Rybak's priorities will remain, the tragedy has led to some financial uncertainty and rethinking of other issues. Instead, he will provide the City Council with a brief update of where things stand exactly two weeks after the collapse that has left nine dead and four people missing.

Rybak will likely use today's occasion to tout the city's "fiscal responsibility," by having enough resources in a "tough budget" to respond to such a catastrophe.

He might nudge the governor to call a special legislative session to help boost the city's local government aid amount. It's a plea that he has made before, because Minneapolis has had annual losses of about $30 million in state aid since 2003.

However, his plea is more urgent this time around. If a state tax bill vetoed earlier this year is reconsidered, it could bring as much as $14 million in aid to the city. And if a state transportation bill is passed, that could bring in additional funding.

"The possibility of restored local aid means we should step back, let the dust settle, and take a fresh look," Rybak said Tuesday at City Hall. "We are only changing because of extraordinary circumstances."

Rybak said he hopes to provide a full budget by mid-September as City Council committees begin their scheduled budget hearings Sept. 24. The City Council will adopt the city budget in December.

The $1.4 billion 2008 preliminary budget -- a slight increase from last year's $1.3 billion -- will come with a recommended annual 8 percent increase in property taxes equal to about $18 million, said Heather Johnston, a city budget director.

It would also put a healthy amount in the city's reserve fund, which has been tapped to cover costs related to the bridge collapse on Aug. 1.

On Monday, the city's Finance Department announced that Minneapolis has spent $2.5 million related to the bridge collapse and expects to spend another $7.5 million to handle traffic problems around the site.

The $2.5 million will mostly pay for police officers, firefighters and other emergency-related personnel working during rescue and recovery missions and controlling traffic near the bridge, said Pat Born, the city's finance director.

An estimated $7.5 million will be used to cover the costs of infrastructure and other traffic-related investments over the next two years, Born said. This includes traffic signal re-timing, street resurfacing and striping, maintenance and providing traffic cops around the area.

The costs are sure to climb, Born told a City Council budget committee Monday. The money will come from the city's $50 million reserve fund.

Born also told the committee that he expects most of the city's expenditures to be reimbursed from various federal sources.

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      When: 1 p.m. today

      Where: City Council Chambers, Minneapolis City Hall, 350 S. 5th St.

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