As they sort through the details of Mayor Betsy Hodges' $1.2 billion budget proposal for next year, some Minneapolis City Council members are questioning when and how the city should provide money to nonprofit groups and other nongovernment initiatives.
The mayor's budget for the Community Planning and Economic Development Department includes $837,000 in new spending on a handful of programs that range from youth violence prevention to support groups and exercise classes for senior citizens.
The amount makes up only a fraction of the department's proposed $93 million budget. But in a meeting Thursday, some council members questioned why the programs had ended up in this portion of the city's operations — and why they hadn't been part of a broader, competitive funding process.
Council Member Lisa Goodman pointed to $362,000 set aside for a youth violence prevention program called BUILD, described in a council presentation as an "equity focused, community-oriented intervention for disenfranchised 16- to 24-year-old youth who are high risk."
She questioned why that program had been selected, rather than other programs with similar aims and perhaps more measurable results.
"Did someone just say, 'We like them, they're cool, let's fund them?' " she said. "Who else got to be part of the process?"
Other suggested new funding includes $350,000 for Minneapolis Tech-Hire, a tech training program, $100,000 for an "Opportunity Hub" providing job training in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and $25,000 for programs run by the Nokomis Eastside Senior Center.
Craig Taylor, the department's director, said programs like the one providing tech training are key to erasing disparities between white and minority residents in Minneapolis.
"We have the highest racial disparities in income, housing and education than any metropolitan city in the nation … and this is an opportunity to move the dial," he said.
But council members questioned whether that project and similar programs belonged elsewhere, such as in the Health Department.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said she'd like to see the city line up all of its efforts on similar issues, such as youth violence prevention, so it can do more than point to money spent on individual programs.
"It feels confusing to me, in that we're splintering our efforts as opposed to being more focused and aligning and making sure we're really able to evaluate and put this in a context of a body of work," she said.
Council Member Blong Yang questioned why some neighborhoods would receive funding while many are in need. But Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the Cedar-Riverside area, said the project in his ward is different because it's a place that has never been the subject of such a targeted effort.
Warsame said the training and employment hub envisioned for the neighborhood, home to thousands of people from Somalia and other East African countries, has the backing of more than 20 outside organizations.
"You have the highest unemployment rate of anywhere in the city," he said of the neighborhood. "You have 5,000 people living there, the majority of whom are young people. … This is why this is such an important project."
Department officials said some of the programs do involve a competitive process, but after the budgets are approved.
The discussion Thursday was part of a weekslong process in which council members are examining the mayor's budget and drafting their own recommendations. Public hearings will be held in November and December before the council takes a final vote.