Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's proposal for filling a state-caused gap in the city budget would add a new street-lighting fee of up to $20 annually, shift civil rights complaints to the state, close the city's health-testing laboratory and rely on federal stimulus money to make up for other cutbacks.

Police would take the largest cut in city dollars under Rybak's proposed do-over budget for 2009, but the mayor said he's confident that federal stimulus money will fill most of the gap.

Rybak laid out the math Monday for revamping the city budget to offset a late-2008 cut of $11.6 million in state aid to the city, plus another $14.8 million that Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to hold back this year to help balance the state budget. The Park Board will absorb another $3.6 million in aid cuts.

"The state is lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis, and until it gets its financial house in order, Minneapolis will suffer, and cities and citizens around the state," Rybak said.

He said it's prudent to prepare for cuts now rather than waiting until the Legislature adjourns. The council hopes to approve a revamped budget on March 11.

Rybak said his proposal would keep police staffing at current strength. General fund spending on police would be sliced by $6.5 million, or 4.8 percent, from the budget the City Council approved in December. But Rybak is betting that with stimulus money earmarked for police, the city can offset much of that cut, leaving $1.5 million in other reductions. Chief Tim Dolan said those will be made by managing overtime more carefully along with cuts in equipment, supplies and leaves.

"It's going to be a tough two years," Dolan said, looking ahead to deeper state aid cuts expected for 2010. But police have said they plan to keep the same number of officers on the street by using officers who now do not work patrol duty.

MPD on budget in '08

Last year was the first in several years that the department stayed within budget. Dolan said he's hoping for a more normal budget this year after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007 and the Republican National Convention in 2008. But the mayor acknowledged that using one-time federal money for policing leaves future budgets unbalanced for now.

Rybak said that imposing a commercial building inspection fee -- an idea that the council has debated recently, sparking opposition from some businesses and council members -- would help allow all but six of the city's vacant firefighting positions to be retained. The proposed fee would range from $130 to $910 per year, depending on building size, and would cover a city inspection once every five years.

Besides the stimulus, the biggest sources of money Rybak proposed to plug the city's budget gap are $7.6 million freed as the city's debt has been paid down over the past several years and an additional $5 million projected from better-than-expected investment performance for the city's proceeds from its interest in the downtown Hilton hotel.

But 59 positions would be eliminated, half of them managers and 26 of them currently vacant. Rybak expressed optimism that the remaining 33 workers can be hired into openings created when the city imposed a hiring freeze in anticipation of budget cuts.

No streetlight-fee details

Details of the streetlight fee haven't been worked out, but it would raise about $850,000 from utility bills for operating and maintaining lights. Rybak said it would apply to both residential and nonresidential property, but that the owner of a residence wouldn't pay more than $20 annually.

Rybak also proposed eliminating two city functions in 2010 that he said duplicate other work. One is the city's health department laboratory, which has a $350,000 city operating subsidy. But that would mean that a variety of tests performed for police, clinics and other departments would be farmed out to other labs and might take longer, said city Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant. Rybak also wants to save $400,000 by relying on the state to investigate civil rights complaints, a job the city has done for decades.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438