When the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul each recommended 2.4 percent levy increases in August, the Star Tribune Editorial Board voiced support for many of their policy goals but also urged both leaders to continue to look for savings and smaller tax hikes.
During the past few weeks, a number of Minneapolis City Council members have done just that, proposing to bring the city's levy increase down to 2.2 percent by making cuts to the $1.2 billion budget proposed by Mayor Betsy Hodges.
However, every dollar matters. And while there is still room for discussion about which areas to trim, we applaud efforts to keep the city's property taxes as low as possible while also providing quality city services.
The mayor's proposed 2.4 percent levy increase in Minneapolis would mean flat or lower property taxes for those whose home valuations increase 7 percent or less, while those with higher valuation increases would pay more.
In its preliminary budget revisions, the council reduced the mayor's proposal by about $620,000 by cutting funds for a neighborhood organizing program, the city's convention center, its new Clean Energy Initiative, a disparity study planned for the Civil Rights Department, and on counseling and outreach programs for new homeowners.
In a separate vote last week, however, the council wisely opted against a council member's suggestion to cut in half the $250,000 proposed for a new Office of Equitable Outcomes, a key initiative of the mayor. That office would oversee city efforts to reduce a range of disparities among racial, ethnic and economic groups.
Hodges ran and was elected to office in part because of her One Minneapolis equity platform. By establishing the Office of Equitable Outcomes, she helps fulfill that campaign pledge. The office will oversee both internal and external efforts to close disparities in areas including housing, city hiring, health and city contracts with vendors.
As for public safety, city leaders rightly agreed to add police officers. This will eventually fill out the authorized force of sworn staff at 860. The budget includes $1 million for 20 community service officers, slightly less than $1 million for an 18-person cadet class, $800,000 for two Fire Department recruit classes, and nearly $350,000 to add four 911 operators and dispatchers. That department came under scrutiny earlier this year after news reports of slow response times and periods when emergency calls went unanswered.
Following the shooting deaths of African-American men by white officers in Missouri and New York, local demonstrators have marched on Minneapolis City Hall. Concerned about excessive use of force, some protesters have called for cutting the Police Department and directing the resources to more neighborhood community programs.
But community comments from a recent series of meetings with the mayor and police chief show that cutting public safety isn't the way to go.
While residents shared concerns about police misconduct, they also expressed the need for better police response times in higher-crime neighborhoods. They want the bad officers to be disciplined or fired, but they also want more good officers to help improve safety in their communities.
To address both those concerns, Hodges and the council also agreed on a $1.1 million appropriation to fund police body cameras. While the cameras won't solve all police-community relations issues, they will help. Other police departments have found that incidents of officer misconduct and some criminal behavior go down when cops are outfitted with cameras.
Both the officers and the community benefit. Body cams have been shown to decrease both the use of force and bogus complaints about police misconduct.
On balance, the proposed Minneapolis budget addresses the right priorities. City leaders should be able to reach reasonable compromises on the few areas of disagreement while also making progress on laudable equity goals.