Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed a 2018 budget on Tuesday that’s focused on affordable housing and combating climate change, and includes a sprinkling of funding for public safety, the arts and voter outreach.
Standing at a podium alongside the full City Council at noon, Hodges spoke for 45 minutes, and laid out her priorities in the $1.4 billion Minneapolis budget. She proposed raising the levy — the total amount of property tax the city collects — by 5.5 percent, or $17.3 million.
Hodges and all the City Council members are in the midst of a re-election campaign, and, as usual, the budget won’t be finalized by the City Council until after the election in December.
Calling climate change “the single greatest threat to our city and our planet,” Hodges said, “it is up to cities like ours to lead both the fight against climate change and the work to adapt to it.” She proposed spending $6 million on clean energy programs; her budget would help pay for those initiatives by raising utility franchise fees by half a percent, which would cost the typical household about 57 cents per month.
The 472-page budget includes $6 million in new spending for a series of affordable housing programs, funding she said is needed to prevent the displacement of lower-income longtime residents.
“There isn’t enough housing, and not the right mix of housing in the right places, to meet all the needs of a rapidly growing city that more and more people choose to live in,” Hodges said.
The budget adds 40 full-time positions to the city’s payroll, bringing the total to 4,192.
In a nod to concerns over safety on Hennepin and First avenues, Hodges proposed funding more nighttime traffic enforcement downtown.
“We’re still seeing far too much criminal activity downtown, and many downtowns across the country are seeing the same thing,” she said.
She also added funding for body cameras and eight community liaisons who are “embedded in precincts who serve as conduits between the community and the department” at new police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s request, she said.
The budget adds one only sworn officer to the Police Department, however, and Council President Barb Johnson said Tuesday she had hoped the mayor would move more quickly to bring the count of sworn officers to 900, and use less money on one-time spending for various programs.
“I’m very disappointed in her backing away from her commitment to staff up the police department,” Johnson said. “I’m going to dig deep and look where the new spending is going and ask for some accountability about some existing programs before we expand into some new venture.”
Effect on taxpayers
The levy increase is about 0.7 percent higher than it would be otherwise due to the city’s 20-year agreement to invest more in the city’s roads and parks. Property taxes cover less than a fifth of the city budget. The other big contributor is charges for services and sales, which include sewer, garbage, recycling and water bills.
Hodges’ speech sets in motion a Board of Estimate and Taxation decision on the maximum property tax levy followed by months of consideration before the City Council.
For an owner-occupied home worth $166,500, the increase in the levy will raise the city portion of a property tax bill by $61, or 7.3 percent. An owner of an apartment building worth $5 million will pay $2,346 more in property taxes, or 6.5 percent.
The mayor spent a good portion of her speech on President Donald Trump, who she said “can wreak untold damage to our country with his authoritarian tactics and his policies of oppression and suppression.”
Hodges proposed the creation of a new city Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which will try to preserve Minneapolis as a welcoming city for immigrants, and funding for the arts and a centralized data practices request system to allow the city to be more responsive to reporters.
“Today, we get to take another step toward creating a Minneapolis that fully lives into our shared values, invests in what we value, and drives tirelessly toward the results our city needs,” Hodges said.
The mayor said efforts to fight racial equity are now embedded in everything the city does, which is why there was no section on it in the budget.
Still, Nekima Levy-Pounds, who’s running against Hodges for mayor, said that not having a section on equity is “a slap in the face for communities of color who face the worst racial disparities in the nation.
“The future vitality of our city depends upon our ability to lift up those who are struggling,” Levy-Pounds said.
Council Member Jacob Frey, who is also running against Hodges for mayor, said he hadn’t studied the budget yet on Tuesday, but “the budget speech felt more like one drafted for a campaign than a budget presentation for the city finances in 2018.”
Tom Hoch, another challenger, said Hodges should have had the budget ready a month ago, and the city has “lost ground” on each of her priorities in the past four years. He did not offer specific criticisms.
“We need more than promises from our mayor,” Hoch said. “We need leadership in the mayor’s office that will deliver on the people’s priorities.”
State Rep. Ray Dehn, who is also running for mayor, could not immediately be reached for comment.