By Erin Golden and Eric Roper
Star Tribune staff writers

Fueled by new money from the city’s largest tax levy increase in six years, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed a budget Wednesday that would hire more police officers while setting aside money to experiment with new ways to reduce crime in the city.

Hodges blamed part of her proposed 5.5 percent hike in tax collections on the Legislature, which did not deliver on an expected state aid increase because of an error in this year’s tax bill — resulting in a veto from the governor. In addition to the new public safety spending, another major driver of the tax increase is a significant, 20-year agreement to invest more in the city’s roads and parks.

The city’s levy reflects the total dollar amount collected through property taxes, which is then spread out over the broader property tax base. Its effect on individual tax bills depends on how a property’s value has changed relative to other houses, apartments and commercial buildings in the city.

Officials said the median-value single family home of $190,500 would see a $24 decrease in its 2017 tax bill under the proposal, due to inflation and new construction in the city.

In a nearly hourlong speech that touched on a range of city operations, the mayor spent considerable time on her plans for improving public safety. She said those expenses account for 70 percent of new spending in her budget, which will still need to be considered by the City Council.

The mayor’s budget focus comes as violent crime edged up in parts of the city and amid growing complaints from downtown business owners that the area is not safe at night.

Among the proposals: adding 15 new police officers in 2017, bringing the authorized strength of the department to 877 officers. A dozen of those officers would be focused on community policing, while another three would be part of a pilot project in which police would be paired with mental-health professionals to respond to some calls. The proposal also calls for $500,000 in one-time funding for “community-based” violence-prevention efforts.

Approaches the mayor hopes to explore include a “group violence-intervention strategy,” in which violent offenders meet with social-service providers, police and other community members. She also pledged money toward resident-led crime-prevention efforts in two areas with high rates of youth violence: W. Broadway in north Minneapolis and the Little Earth of the United Tribes housing development in south Minneapolis.

At a time of heightened police-community tensions, some have advocated less investment in law enforcement. Hodges said that would be the wrong approach.

“We need a police department,” she said. “We are going to have a police department. What we get to have, however, is a 21st-century police department that is rooted in 21st-century policing, built on a foundation of trust and dedicated to transforming police-community relations.”

The mayor’s budget also calls for five more firefighters. She said the department is spending too much in overtime to keep up with the demands of a growing city.

Hodges is proposing a $1.33 billion budget, up 9 percent. Last year’s budget totaled approximately $1.2 billion.

Other new spending she noted in the speech includes nearly a dozen new staff members, including an administrative staffer in Animal Care and Control, an additional auditor, five more traffic-control agents and a person to work with small businesses. The budget also sets aside $50,000 for outreach to workers and businesses about the new city ordinance that requires businesses to provide paid sick leave.

Council Member Andrew Johnson said he is hopeful that the added funds to help businesses and to implement the sick-leave policy would be enough to make a difference. He said that depends in large part on how well the city uses its connections with businesses and business groups to share its message. “The devil is in the details,” he said.

Hodges also proposed an unspecified amount of funding for several programs aimed at reducing racial disparities in the city, including some targeted at East African residents and others tied to My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative aimed at young men and boys of color.

To cover those increased costs, the mayor is proposing the city’s largest tax-levy increase since 2010. She said the agreement reached with the Minneapolis Park Board to fund parks and streets earlier this year increased the city’s baseline levy from a projected 3.75 percent to 4.9 percent.

Hodges said most of her public safety investments would be offset by reduced health care costs. She added that she would like to reduce the proposed levy to 4.9 percent if a special legislative session — which is still not a certainty — produces the expected increase in state aid.

The 5.5 percent increase still needs approval of the City Council. Two budgets ago, the council shaved a 2.4 percent increase down to 2.2 percent over concerns about the impact on homeowners.

Council Member Linea Palmisano, who led efforts to make that levy reduction in 2014, said Wednesday that the budget responsibly tackled the park funding needs without holding a proposed referendum. “This is about good governance and investing in basic things, basic things we know we need to invest in in our city,” said Palmisano. “I don’t see those as being trimmable.”

The speech was enough to garner tepid support from police union president Lt. Bob Kroll, who frequently spars publicly with City Hall leadership. Kroll said he would like the size of the force to grow proportionately to the city’s population — about 69 officers. “Obviously, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye,” Kroll said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but again, very small.”

The budget proposal will now go to the City Council for review and discussion. The council will vote on the budget in December.

 

Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790