Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed cutting property taxes Thursday in his final budget speech, a move that, if approved, would be unprecedented in recent city history.
Rybak, whose tax hikes over the last decade have garnered much public ire, announced that his final budget would cut the city's levy by one percent. City officials could not recall another time the levy was decreased, though other governments have taken similar steps in recent years.
"In tough times, we asked residents to invest more to keep the city strong," Rybak said, in prepared remarks. "With times getting a little bit better, we will ask less."
By comparison, the levy increase was 1.7 percent in 2013. Property taxes now account for about 45 percent of the city’s general fund revenues. That’s up from 29 percent in 2003.
Other highlights of Rybak's budget proposal include hiring 30 new firefighters and 30 new police officers, as well as 20 community service officers. It also pays for putting every Minneapolis police officer through "cultural competency training" and expands the police department's auditing and early warning systems to catch bad cops.
Regarding the fire department, Rybak announced a pilot program that would send SUVs with EMS specialists to some medical calls rather than a fire truck, which "gets about 0 miles to the gallon." That would be coupled with an expansion of the city's EMS certification program for public school students, he said.
As part of an effort to increase pedestrian activity in the city, Rybak proposed removing most or all of the cars from South Minneapolis' 29th Street and transforming it into a "grand pedestrian way."
"I know there will be 37 different reasons why this is difficult or inconvenient," Rybak said in prepared remarks. "But it's time we got bigger visions for that old-fashioned transportation strategy called walking. America's No. 1 city for bikes should also be America's No. 1 city for pedestrians."
All of Rybak's proposals are subject to approval by the City Council. The maximum levy will be set by the Board of Estimate and Taxation this September.