The proposed 2010 Minneapolis city budget shifted Thursday night from the usual dry presentations of bureaucrats to debate by the public over how much the city can afford to spend.

While some advocates spoke for more money to house the homeless or low-income renters, others in a crowd of about 40 told the City Council at a public hearing that they can't afford the tab.

Among the latter was Naoma Estes, who said that her property tax bill has quintupled to $3,000 since she moved in 40 years ago to a home near Minnehaha Park.

"I come before you to plead that you consider the senior citizens of the city," she said, citing their fixed incomes and medical costs.

Deanna Ross said her assessment took a big jump and the tax bill on her home near Lake Nokomis rose 17.5 percent, despite no improvements. "You gotta be accountable to us," she told the council.

Mayor R.T. Rybak has recommended an 11.3 percent property tax increase in his $1.3 billion 2010 budget. The city said that translates to a 6.6 percent increase on a typical house.

For every tax opponent speaking, even more people showed up to urge that spending be retained for causes such as affordable housing, police and fire response times, administrative help for the city's senior ombudsman, and keeping an arts and culture worker on staff.

David Lilly, board chairman for the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, said that group couldn't have started its pending Creekside Commons and Nicollet Square housing developments without city money that he said is leveraged numerous times over by other sources.

"Not all families who had owned will be able to own in the future," said Steve Cramer, executive director of the nonprofit Project for Pride in Living, describing the impact of foreclosure on the need for affordable rental housing.

Those who spoke up have an advantage they've lacked in previous years -- the council is listening to them before its budget committee makes recommendations on the mayor's budget instead of just before the council adopts it. It is scheduled to hear once more from the public on Dec. 7 at 6:05 p.m. in room 317 City Hall just before voting on the budget.

David Sadler, whose home fronts Lake Harriet, argued that city taxes are compounding at a rate that property owners can't afford. "They simply won't be able to stay in the city," he said. "It'll destroy the residential fabric."

He noted that the city has the highest property tax burden among 117 metro-area communities, and he called for merging municipal functions such as firefighting and parks across city lines to cut costs.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438