Two members of the board which sets Minneapolis's property tax levy said Tuesday they are pushing for the first tax cut in recent history.

David Wheeler and Carol Becker, elected citizen members of the six-person Board of Estimate and Taxation, said improvements in city finances and a stabilization of the tax base warrant a levy decrease of at least one or two percent. The Board, which also includes the mayor and other public officials, has final say on the city's maximum property tax levy each year.

Their comments precede Mayor R.T. Rybak's final budget speech this Thursday. We wrote here on MPLS last week about some factors that give the city flexibility, including a 20 percent increase in state aid and $7 million in unspent funds that were set aside this spring.

"We need to send a powerful signal to the citizens of Minneapolis that we're working really hard on this," Wheeler said. "With the economy strengthening, with commercial-industrial coming on stronger, I think we have that opportunity to begin to lessen the burden on individual homeowners."

Becker, a veteran of city politics who served in the Sharon Sayles Belton administration, could not recall the last time the levy was decreased. Other entities, such as Hennepin County, have managed to reduce their levy in recent years.

"After this brutal economic period, things are getting better and people should be able to share in it," Becker said.

The property tax levy sets the revenue from homeowners the city aims to collect. A negative levy would mean reduced taxes for many residents, depending on the changing value of their homes. Last year the levy was increased by 1.7 percent, while the year before it remained flat.

Recent data from city staff show that in the last year, about a 33.79 percent of homes in Minneapolis experienced a decrease in market value. Another 33.19 percent had no market value change, while 33.01 percent had higher values.

A spokesman for Rybak, a member of the board, declined to comment on the levy last week. Following the mayor's recommended levy, the Board will hold a public hearing and set the maximum in September.

Other members of the Board have endorsed a tax cut.

Council President Barb Johnson said in April that they would like to see a negative levy. Park commissioner Bob Fine, who is running for mayor, recently proposed a five percent decrease. 

Council budget chair Betsy Hodges, who is also running for mayor, said Monday that "we will have more flexibility in the tax levy." She stopped short of endorsing a lower tax levy, adding "Do I want to make sure that the taxpayers of Minneapolis get relief? Yes."