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Rybak's budget ready for a close-up

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • November 29, 2011 - 9:40 PM

Minneapolis taxpayers get to voice their views Wednesday on Mayor R.T. Rybak's 2012 budget proposal, which keeps the city's property tax flat but would mean fewer neighborhood crime specialists, fewer visits to clinics for uninsured people and big cuts in public-access cable TV.

The 6:05 p.m. public hearing in City Hall's council chambers marks a transition between weeks of hearings by the council's budget committee and its chance next week to amend Rybak's proposal.

The city is bound to the no-increase property levy because a city tax-setting board set that limit in September. That means that any move by a council member to restore funding to a program needs to be offset with other cuts.

Last year's hearing, required under the state's so-called truth-in-taxation law, marked a watershed for Rybak. Public and council opposition to his proposed 6.5 percent levy increase for 2011 forced him to lower that to 4.7 percent. Even with the lower figure, many homeowners experienced much higher tax increases, partly because the tax burden shifted more from business to residential property.

This year, Rybak proposed no increase in the amount the city collects, a first for him, and many property owners will see a drop in the city portion of their bill. Budget Chair Betsy Hodges said she's not heard much from constituents about taxes, so she thinks they know the city is holding the line.

Among the areas that have drawn council attention in hearings on Rybak's proposal are:

• Cutting five of the 17 civilians working with neighborhood residents on crime-fighting strategies as crime prevention specialists.

• Trimming 10 police officers by attrition, which would leave uniformed ranks at 843 people, compared with 916 in 2008.

• Reducing the Department of Health and Family Support's city subsidy by 23 percent, resulting in more than 2,000 fewer visits to community clinics for uninsured people.

• Slashing 31 percent of the budget for Minneapolis Telecommunications Network, which provides public-access equipment training and programming on cable television.

• Eliminating one of the three newly hired internal auditors whose job is to guard city departments against fraud and mismanagement.

After Wednesday's hearing, the final chance for public comment on the budget comes just before the council is scheduled to adopt it, at 6:05 p.m. on Dec. 14. People may sign up to testify on Wednesday by calling 612-673-3130 or registering when they arrive.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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