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Mpls. council questions how mayor's budget funds outside projects

As they sort through the details of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ $1.2 billion budget proposal for next year, some Minneapolis City Council members are questioning when and how the city should provide money to nonprofit groups and other nongovernment initiatives.

The mayor's budget for the Community Planning and Economic Development Department includes $837,000 in new spending on a handful of programs that range from youth violence prevention to support groups and exercise classes for senior citizens.

The amount makes up only a fraction of the department’s proposed $93 million budget. But in a meeting Thursday, some council members questioned why the programs had ended up in this portion of the city’s operations — and why they hadn’t been part of a broader, competitive funding process.

Council Member Lisa Goodman pointed to $362,000 set aside for a youth violence prevention program called BUILD, described in a council presentation as an “equity focused, community-oriented intervention for disenfranchised 16- to 24-year-old youth who are high risk.”

She questioned why that program had been selected, rather than other programs with similar aims and perhaps more measurable results.

“Did someone just say, ‘We like them, they’re cool, let’s fund them?’ ” she said. “Who else got to be part of the process?”

Other suggested new funding includes $350,000 for Minneapolis Tech-Hire, a tech training program, $100,000 for an “Opportunity Hub” providing job training in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and $25,000 for programs run by the Nokomis Eastside Senior Center.

Craig Taylor, the department’s director, said programs like the one providing tech training are key to erasing disparities between white and minority residents in Minneapolis.

“We have the highest racial disparities in income, housing and education than any metropolitan city in the nation … and this is an opportunity to move the dial,” he said.

But council members questioned whether that project and similar programs belonged elsewhere, such as in the Health Department.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said she’d like to see the city line up all of its efforts on similar issues, such as youth violence prevention, so it can do more than point to money spent on individual programs.

“It feels confusing to me, in that we’re splintering our efforts as opposed to being more focused and aligning and making sure we’re really able to evaluate and put this in a context of a body of work,” she said.

Council Member Blong Yang questioned why some neighborhoods would receive funding while many are in need. But Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the Cedar-Riverside area, said the project in his ward is different because it’s a place that has never been the subject of such a targeted effort.

Warsame said the training and employment hub envisioned for the neighborhood, home to thousands of people from Somalia and other East African countries, has the backing of more than 20 outside organizations.

“You have the highest unemployment rate of anywhere in the city,” he said of the neighborhood. “You have 5,000 people living there, the majority of whom are young people. … This is why this is such an important project.”

Department officials said some of the programs do involve a competitive process, but after the budgets are approved.

The discussion Thursday was part of a weekslong process in which council members are examining the mayor’s budget and drafting their own recommendations. Public hearings will be held in November and December before the council takes a final vote.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790


Park Board to hire city's consultant to assess Hiawatha water issues

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will be asked by its staff to hire a local engineering firm to help it assess its groundwater options at Hiawatha Golf Course.

The board will be asked at its Wednesday meeting to hire Barr Engineering, the firm already providing an assessment to the city of Minneapolis of its stormwater ponds that dot the golf course. The proposed contract would cost up to $100,610, not counting another $10,000 for a peer review of Barr's work.

The Park Board was told recently that Barr's work for the city had estimated the pumping of groundwater, supplemented by stormwater, of up to 270 million gallons per year from one of those connected ponds into Lake Hiawatha.

The Star Tribune reported last week that the Park Board lacks a state water appropriation permit for that pumping, although it is permitted to pump smaller amounts from the ponds to water the golf course. The Park Board confirmed that situation on Tuesday.

The groundwater situation has major implications for plans to rebuild the 81-year-old golf course that was severely damaged after heavy rains sent nearby Minnehaha Creek over its banks. Substantial areas of turf and other course features were damaged. Park staff need to know what water level they will be able to maintain before deciding whether to rebuild the 18-hole course as it was, reconfigure it in a way that allows it to store more water during flooding, or trim it to a nine-hole course.

The proposed work includes installing flow meters at pumps and pipes to measure movement of water through ponds, pipes that connect them and pumps that maintain the water level in those ponds, as well as monitoring wells and pressure gauges to calculate the volume of water. Ground and pumped water also would be assessed for water quality. The proposed contract would also try to determine the water level if pumping ceases and determine resulting flood zones. The work also involves creating models to determine upstream impacts of different pond elevations.

The board and public are expected to get next month a fuller report of a staff meeting scheduled for Tuesday with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permitting specialists.      

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