With the Legislature poised to take an axe to state aid to municipalities, Minnesota's largest city begins a process to identify ways that it can cope with less money.
Canceling construction projects and merging 911 and other services are among a raft of cost-saving possibilities up for discussion as Minneapolis gets ready to revamp its 2009 budget in response to expected state aid cuts.
"Everything is going to have to be on the table," Mayor R.T. Rybak told the City Council's budget committee Monday, referring to the impact of cuts that the city will begin considering after Gov. Tim Pawlenty's late January state budget proposal.
The mayor said he wants to hold interactive community meetings in which city residents can rank the importance of various city programs or services and hinted that the city may need to scrap some programs entirely.
"We can't settle for doing everything less well," he said.
On Monday, the budget committee approved a set of budget directives that, if approved by the full council on Friday, will provide more information to guide budget cuts.
They're intended to collect information on whether there are any pending bricks-and-mortar projects that can be postponed, what services are mandated by the state or other government levels, and what services the city offers that are also offered by the county or other governments.
Crime lab facilities, 911 calls, health services, park police and the investigation of civil rights complaints are among the services that budget committee Chairman Paul Ostrow mentioned as potential duplicates.
The city also will be looking at what it costs to support facilities that are used by people from the broader region or state, such as the Target Center and Convention Center.
Rybak described the budget situation as serious, saying the easier cuts were made the last time the state cut aid in 2003. But he said the city has the advantages of having been through a severe budget-pruning exercise that year and having cut its debt load since then.
He said he's not ready to say whether the cuts will mean fewer cops on the streets, as happened in 2003, when police jobs were left unfilled but no officers were laid off. The city has only recently built its force back to close to pre-cut levels.
Rybak also said he's asked departments to submit cuts of varying degrees and won't simply be cutting equally across the board. He said he'll submit a revised city budget proposal to the City Council by mid-February.
The first round of state aid cuts announced last month will cost the city about $13 million. City Finance Director Patrick Born said that cuts the budget reserve to about 11 percent of 2009 revenues. The committee affirmed its support for rebuilding its target of 15 percent.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438