Minneapolis mayor’s budget boosts spending on housing, violence prevention, but police force is smaller

Minneapolis would operate with fewer police officers than it has in recent years and boost spending on violence prevention and affordable housing programs, under a detailed budget released this week by Mayor Jacob Frey.

The mayor’s budget plan calls for just shy of $1.5 billion in spending, as the city tries to trim expenses to deal with the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. That includes nearly $179 million for the Minneapolis Police Department, down from the $193 million initially budgeted for the department in 2020.

The budget book, published online late Tuesday, provides staffing projections for the Minneapolis Police Department, which is dealing with a wave of officer departures following George Floyd’s death and the unrest that accompanied it.

The city estimates that, between normal departures and disability claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder, roughly 145 sworn officers will leave the department between about Jan. 1, 2020 through March 2021. In a normal year, between 40 and 45 officers would leave through retirements or for other reasons.

Many of those positions would remain frozen as part of a larger citywide hiring freeze implemented after the pandemic began. Frey’s plan does call for adding three recruit classes in 2021. If those are approved, the exact number of officers working would fluctuate throughout the year, but the monthly average of working officers would be roughly 770, according to the budget office.

The City Council will have the final say on the budget, which is likely to be settled in December.

The city’s police staffing has been a point of contention as the city debates how to change policing following Floyd’s death. The city’s charter, which serves as its constitution, requires the city to fund a minimum police force based on the city’s population. Based on the latest census data, that amounts to a force of roughly 730.

Some City Council members have pushed to remove that minimum staffing requirement from the charter.

Frey said in an interview Wednesday that he is concerned about the staffing levels. “My concern is entirely with safety,” he said.

The mayor’s budget proposal also calls for additional funding for the Office of Violence Prevention, including $2.5 million for a program aimed at stopping cycles of violence. It also includes $7.2 million in new, ongoing funding for affordable housing programs.

The mayor’s plan calls for about $1.46 billion in spending but anticipates $1.42 billion in revenue from various sources, a gap that the city said it would seek to close by using cash balances in some funds.

Frey’s plan also relies on a 5.75% increase in the property tax levy. Officials in St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties have called for keeping the property tax levies there flat, citing the pandemic, the unrest after Floyd’s death, or both.

Frey cautioned against trying to compare the governments’ rates too closely. “It’s apples to oranges,” he said.

The total amount of money the city collects in property taxes would increase under Frey’s plan, but most homeowners would see their tax bills go down, according to the city.

In part of because of the expiration of a special taxing district, the city anticipates that three-quarters of residential property owners will see a decrease in their property tax bills. Someone with a home valued at the median of roughly $281,500 could see their bill decrease by roughly $59, according to the city’s calculations.

“The impact is not a 5.75% increase per property taxpayer,” Frey said. “In this case, we worked very hard to make them actually go down.”

Apartment building owners, though, could see an increase.

The city’s Board of Estimate and Taxation is set to meet Wednesday evening to discuss the tax levy increase. Board President Carol Becker said during last week’s meeting that she is interested in postponing a vote until next week, so that people have more time to digest the details of the budget and provide their feedback.

This is a developing story. Check startribune.com for updates.

This story is developing and will be updated.

 

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