Minneapolis would operate with about 100 fewer police officers than it has planned for in recent years and would increase property taxes for some under a new budget proposal released this week.
The specifics of Mayor Jacob Frey’s budget plan, posted online late Tuesday, provide a fresh glimpse into how the city expects to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic and a wave of officer departures following George Floyd’s death. The plan warns that an unusually large number of officer resignations and retirements, combined with a hiring freeze designed to limit spending during the pandemic, could lead to an officer shortage that would increase response times.
Frey said Wednesday that he is concerned about officer staffing levels. “My concern is entirely with safety,” he said.
Police staffing is expected to be a key point of discussion as the mayor and City Council negotiate the details of a nearly $1.5 billion city budget for 2021 amid an economic downturn, calls to change or eliminate policing and an uptick in violent crime. Within a day of the plan’s release, it drew critics, including Carol Becker, president of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which approves the city’s maximum tax levy.
In a public meeting Wednesday, Becker said her car’s catalytic converter was stolen and that when she called police, they told her they didn’t have enough people to respond. She said her father, who is in his 80s, has been serving as unofficial security in his condo building amid a lack of police response, “confronting these people who are breaking in and trying to do harm.”
“We owe it to the public to hear those stories before we set this levy,” Becker said, adding that some residents, including senior citizens, have contacted her requesting that taxes be increased so the city can hire more officers.
Becker’s attempt to postpone a vote until next week failed, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation voted Wednesday evening to approve Frey’s recommended 5.75% tax levy increase, which is expected to have the greatest impact on people who own apartment buildings and commercial property.
City Council Member Steve Fletcher, who is also a member of the board, said he believed the mayor’s budget proposal provided a good starting point for discussions about police staffing, an issue city leaders will “rightly have debates about” as they work to finalize a budget in December. The council will have major sway over the final budget, and many of its members have expressed a desire to decrease the size of the police force.
The city initially budgeted $193 million for the Police Department in 2020, a figure that allowed for a force of up to 888 officers. The department didn’t always fulfill those staffing levels and in midsummer reported that 856 officers were employed.
Frey’s 2021 budget plan allocates about $179 million for the department and provides a glimpse into how a wave of officer resignations is affecting staffing levels.
According to the proposal and interviews with the city’s budget office, Minneapolis officials expect that, between normal departures and disability claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder, about 145 sworn officers will have left the department between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 2021. In a normal year, 40 to 45 would leave.
Frey’s plan calls for adding three recruit classes in 2021. If the council agrees to fund them, the monthly average number of officers working in the department would be about 770. At Frey’s proposed hiring rate, it would take two to 2½ years to replace the officers who left, in part because of the amount of time it takes to hire and train officers. In the interim, the city anticipates an additional $5 million in overtime costs for the department.
Council members are expected to receive a public budget update Thursday morning, and many activists who have pushed for cuts to the department will look for hints about where they stand.
Sheila Nezhad, a policy organizer from Reclaim the Block, said she looks forward to learning more details but is initially disappointed that Frey did not cut more from the police budget.
“We really expected a much larger investment in what the community needed,” she said. “We need a greater investment in housing, emergency income relief and violence prevention strategies.”
She said she also wonders whether money currently devoted to efforts to build community trust could be better spent by providing direct relief to families.
Frey’s budget proposal calls for additional funding for the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, including an extra $2.5 million for a program aimed at stopping cycles of violence, and $100,000 to establish a “more community-friendly” workspace for the office.
His plan also includes an additional $7.2 million in funding for affordable housing, including programs aimed at preserving affordable housing, increasing housing stability and providing legal support to residents facing eviction.
In total, the mayor’s plan calls for about $1.46 billion in spending but anticipates $1.42 billion in revenue from various sources. That would leave a gap that the city said it would seek to close by using cash balances in some funds.
The proposal also calls for a 5.75% increase in the property tax levy, though that would not be felt equally by all property owners. Officials in St. Paul and Hennepin and Ramsey counties have called for keeping property tax levies there flat, citing the pandemic and the unrest after Floyd’s death.
Frey cautioned against trying to compare the governments’ rates too closely. “It’s apples to oranges,” he said.
In part because of the expiration of a special taxing district, the city expects three-quarters of residential property owners to see a decrease in their property tax bills. Someone with a home valued at the median of about $281,500 could see their bill decrease by roughly $59, according to the city’s calculations.
“The impact is not a 5.75 percent increase per property taxpayer,” Frey said. “In this case, we worked very hard to make them actually go down.”
People who own apartment buildings and commercial properties, though, could see an increase in the amount they pay. According to the city’s calculations, an apartment building worth about $1 million could see an annual increase of about $576, and a commercial property valued at $521,000 could see an increase of about $73.
Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he believes Frey “took the right balance dealing with property tax owners with an eye to the city staff,” allowing for some flexibility on policing and public safety.
“We have to remember that every major city across the country is dealing with some of the same budget challenges Frey has been dealing with,” Weinhagen said. “I’m pleased with his commitment to the police chief and to working to improve a police department that we all have a vision will look very different from today.”