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Body cameras for cops, housing fund make budget cut in Minneapolis

  • Article by: Eric Roper
  • Star Tribune
  • December 5, 2013 - 11:26 AM

Police body cameras, affordable housing and more accessible government data got a boost from the Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday in a series of budget actions that also gutted a proposed subsidy for the Midtown Global Market.

The council’s budget committee made the alterations to Mayor R.T. Rybak’s budget with just nine days left before its final meeting of the year. The chair of the committee is Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges, who will succeed Rybak on Jan 2.

Hodges’ proposal to set aside $400,000 to pay for body cameras on police — often worn on glasses or headbands — revisits an issue that arose during the mayoral campaign this summer. Hodges and two colleagues pushed for the technology partly to combat high police misconduct settlements, but the Police Department said at the time that the proposal was premature.

“I have had a conversation with [Police] Chief Harteau about this, and this is an amount that is useful for 2014 for a potential program that she does have a working group working on,” Hodges said. “This does not require that program to move forward, nor does it specify particulars about the program.”

Council Member Gary Schiff, a supporter of the initiative who is leaving the council, said the full program is expected to eventually cost $650,000. The initial funding will allow them to “scale the implementation” and roll it out slowly, he said.

Rybak had fought for an operating subsidy for the Midtown Global Market, budgeting $185,000 for it. That’s in addition to about $1.5 million in loan forgiveness and a parking subsidy that will be considered separately.

The committee agreed with a proposal by Schiff to redirect $135,000 of the budgeted amount to a competitive small business grant fund (which the market can apply for next year), and $50,000 to fund temperament testing associated with a new policy of allowing people to adopt “bully breed” dogs. The loan forgiveness and parking subsidy will be considered at a meeting on Tuesday.

Council Member Lisa Goodman, chairwoman of the community development committee, scrutinized the $150,000 proposal to subsidize free parking adjacent to the market. “Ryan [Cos.], who owns the parking ramp, has empty spots that they could give to the market. And if they’re not sold, they’re nothing … So we’re basically reimbursing Ryan,” Goodman said.

Among the winners Wednesday were the city’s affordable housing trust fund. The fund, which doles out money to build affordable housing, was given an extra $1.5 million for a total of $3.5 million in local funds this year — much more than the $2 million budgeted in recent years. Goodman said the infusion was especially important because federal funds — which make up the remaining of the $7.6 million total allocation — come with onerous restrictions.

Several incoming council members have expressed interest in making more public city data available in raw form online, similar to initiatives in Chicago and elsewhere. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, a rumored candidate for council president next year, introduced a successful proposal to instruct staff members to post data online in more open formats. The proposal would also form a working group to develop a policy for open data.

“This is jumping on a wagon that’s already going down a road in many other cities,” Glidden said.

Left undecided was a motion by Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy to use $166,000 Rybak had budgeted for extra 311 hours, which answers calls for city services or problems, to pay for two more 911 employees instead.

The national benchmark for 911 is to answer 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds. Staff members reported in August that 81 percent of calls during the busiest hours were reaching that level, a figure they expected to rise to 85 percent when new employees had completed training.

“Whatever the reason is, the calls aren’t getting answered fast enough on our busiest nights,” Colvin Roy said.

Rybak noted that they added two staff members to 911 last year and that the department has a “complicated personnel issue” that won’t be solved with more money.

“I would feel differently if I felt that this city was at a crisis with emergency calls not being answered,” Rybak said. “I do not believe that’s the case.” The motion was tabled until Thursday’s meeting.

The committee will hold a public hearing and adopt the approximately $1.1 billion budget on Dec. 11. It is the first of Rybak’s tenure that decreased the property tax levy, by 1 percent.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper

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