Rybak's budget takes a sensible approach on infrastructure.
Potholes and damaged light poles don't typically rise to the top of city issues lists, but they are the kind of livability concerns that can make the difference between a good city and a great one.
With that in mind, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, in his 2009 budget proposal, calls for pumping an additional $27.5 million into city infrastructure over the next five years -- an investment that would accelerate plans to fix rough roads and repair and replace light and semaphore signal poles. About $3 million would be used to improve parks and bike trails.
The mayor's recommendations fit well with the downtown business improvement district now under consideration. Under that proposal, about 600 downtown properties -- including the Star Tribune -- would be assessed to raise an estimated $6.5 million to clean up downtown streets, improve maintenance and repair, and generally make the area more livable, lively and attractive.
Combined, the two proposals represent a significant investment in improving the city's vitality, as well as in making it cleaner, greener, safer and easier to navigate.
The mayor also issued another well-placed plea for legislative help on pension costs for public safety workers. Last year, the city paid $22 million to fund the antiquated system -- more than a proposed tax increase would raise. State lawmakers should help the city keep promises to pensioners while shouldering less of the burden when the stock market is down.
Rybak's proposed budget would set city spending at about $1.4 billion and increase the property tax levy by about 6.8 percent -- slightly less than in previous years. The city portion of a house valued at $216,000 would rise by about $20, or 1.7 percent. However, utility bills would go up by about $45 a year because the mayor is recommending assessment increases. Much of the added funding for public works projects would come from the city's Legacy Fund, a pot of money the city received when it sold its interest in the downtown Hilton hotel.
It's likely no coincidence that the mayor is talking infrastructure in a city that had a major bridge collapse just over a year ago. And if he has higher political ambitions, it won't hurt his record to list major public works improvements among his accomplishments.
Still, after several years of reducing debt and focusing on public safety and jobs, Rybak has taken a logical, practical next step in city building. He has given citizens and the City Council a solid base on which to begin 2009 budget talks.
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