Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan disclosed a budget deficit for his department on Friday of up to $4.2 million this year, prompting a grilling from upset members of the City Council's budget committee.

The council panel has ridden herd on overspending departments since early 2007, and Dolan was able to break even last year.

The Police Department's total budget is about $135 million.

Dolan's deficit news clearly irked council members who had been told recently that the deficit would be much smaller. Yet none of the committee members said afterward that the deficit alone would tip them against reappointing Dolan, whose appointment comes before the new council in January.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden pressed Dolan on the credibility of his assertion that the department only recently learned that higher rates would drive up the cost the department pays another city department to lease and maintain vehicles.

"That's the most outlandish thing I've ever heard," said Glidden, normally understated in her comments. "How are you that far off? ... This is a really big management issue."

Department officials said that delayed billings from the Public Works Department caught them unaware. Some council members said that issue needs to be addressed. Dolan said the department had cut back by 40 vehicles and expected bigger savings.

"I want to offer my sincere apologies," Dolan told the committee. He said the extra costs ranged from $220,000 billed by other cities for responding to the 35W bridge collapse to $300,000 in extra jail fees paid to the county and $500,000 in higher fuel costs.

The department also had fewer officers taking retirement incentives because of uncertainty about the economy and potential pension changes. It still shed the equivalent of about 30 full-time positions, 19 of them sworn positions and another 20 part-time community service officers who often go on to become officers.

Another big hole developed in the department's budget when it got only $3.7 million in federal stimulus money, much less than Mayor R.T. Rybak had insisted would be available.

Some of the costs that caused the deficit are one-time, but others will carry over into 2010, undermining Dolan's struggle to balance that budget. Rybak has proposed a budget that requires Dolan to make $5.3 million in cuts for next year, which Dolan said most likely will require layoffs among nonsworn employees. He has been directed to report back to the council Nov. 30 on those cuts.

Budget Chairman Paul Ostrow said the department's deficit makes a strong argument for strengthening the city's management. "We've done everything possible to hold departments accountable," the lame-duck budget chief said, urging returning council members to address the issue. "It's not working now."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438