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Minneapolis, time to demand accountability for ballooning tax bills

I attended Mayor Jacob Frey's "Budget 101" session a couple months ago.  It was intended to be an exercise to hear what resident priorities would be for a list of discretionary spending, referred to as "change items."  If we chose to "fund" anything it would entail an increase to the planned 7% property tax levy for 2020.  


There were noble items on the list - Opioid Response for example.  Then there were items that should be a part of the city's very basic services like Winter Maintenance Funding (you can see the exercise and funding choices here: https://static.wixstatic.com/ugd/edb2d0_994f4b1cacb04e36bf76e0742f001ec3.pdf).


When Mayor Frey came by each table to hear discussion and answer questions, I asked him why this exercise is only additive?  Where is the whole budget with past history of expenditures so we could have context of current spending?  Most important, what could we CUT to create funding for noble goals?


The City staff were not prepared to go into this level of detail.  I am employed in Sales and our livelihood is based on performance against plan.  We are evaluated regularly on a wide range of measurable metrics. I decided to do a deeper dive into the City budget.  Having no government experience, I expected something detailed that showed what was spent in the past couple years, what we plan to spend this year, how we are doing against that plan and a projection for next year.  I was astonished to find only very general categories, with no meaningful detail.  I thought maybe I had referenced the wrong document, a summary.  I called up Council Member Linea Palmisano.  While very responsive, the link her office sent me still did not really tell me where the $1.62 billion budget was going.  


Here is the link: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@finance/documents/webcontent/wcmsp-215576.pdf


For example, on page I5 we can start to see expenditures by department, I was curious what sort of spending was coming out of the City Council's office:

I learned that $5.32M was earmarked for the City Council.  Later on another page I learned that this supports a department of 39 people.  What is lacking is any specifics - is that purely salary? office supplies? travel? food? gas?  When City Council is getting department budget increases of 13.1% over 4 years, I'd like to understand where it is going with a static head count.  Inflation is about 2% per year, and I know plenty of Minneapolitans with stagnant wages over this same time period. 


These are the only the beginnings of a lot of questions and very few answers.  The bottom line is Minneapolitans are suffering their own affordable housing crisis based on runaway taxes and spending, and that hits every renter and homeowner in the city.  Of note, with all the talk of equity and renter's rights, the apartment levy is especially painful:


Residents of Minneapolis can not bear an increased tax levy from the egregious 5.67% in 2019 to the proposed 6.95% in 2020.  It is time to get serious about taking a critical look at the Budget and figuring out where to cut.  And it is the job of the City to provide accounting documents to the public that are much more comprehensive, with measurable metrics and monthly reporting on where actuals are coming in.  A budget of $1.62 billion is massive on a per capita basis compared to other random cities:


City                    Budget            Population        Budget Per Capita

Indianapolis       $1.17B            869,012            $1,346

Salt Lake City    $331M            192,000            $1,724

Knoxville            $444M            187,347            $2,367

Minneapolis       $1.62B            429,382            $3,776


City government needs to be accountable for how our hard earned money is being spent.  We can only dream of raises that exceed inflation.  We have record-breaking real estate development in the city generating gigantic permit and tax revenue. Where is that revenue going? Why is property tax relief not a top priority?

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