New snow emergency starts tonight

After 17 inches of snow fell on us Friday and Saturday — making it the largest snow storm to hit Minneapolis since Halloween 1991, and the fifth-largest in our history — we have declared a second consecutive Snow Emergency beginning at 9:00 p.m. tonight, Monday, December 13. While crews have been able to make at least one pass through 95 percent of streets and 100 percent of alleys — which added together, total over 1,500 miles — there is still much work that needs to be done to make our streets safe and drivable for emergency crews and the public. This second Snow Emergency will allow crews to thoroughly plow all the City streets and alleys, and get to any areas that may have been missed. (If your street or alley was missed by a snow plow, please call 311.)

Please read farther down this post for Snow Emergency Parking Rules.

I very much want to thank two sets of people who have worked heroically during this challenging time. First, City crews have been on the job on 12-hour shifts around the clock since Friday evening. They have been faced with the worst conditions in nearly two decades and despite it all have made a lot of progress toward getting our streets fully cleared. Second, residents across Minneapolis have been helping their neighbors and total strangers dig out their cars, shovel their sidewalks and clear out corners and sidewalks. Your cooperation during this time has been phenomenal, and we encourage you to keep up the great work.

You have probably heard that if you car was towed during the first Snow Emergency, which ends at 8:00 p.m. tonight, the City of Minneapolis will waive your towing fee. We felt it was only fair to those residents who simply had no way to move their cars during the onslaught of snow. However, please note that we will not waive any towing fees during this second Snow Emergency, which begins at 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Therefore, it is essential that you follow the Snow Emergency parking rules. If you can’t park in an area because it hasn’t been plowed yet, find another place to park where you can comply with the parking rules, even if this means parking a few blocks away from home. When residents and City crews work together, we can clear our streets faster.

Snow Emergency parking rules

Tonight, Dec. 13, 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. (Day 1)
Do not park on EITHER side of a Snow Emergency route until the street is fully plowed.

  • Tuesday, Dec. 14, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Day 2)
    Do not park on the EVEN side of a non-Snow Emergency route, or on EITHER side of a parkway until the street is fully plowed.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 15, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Day 3)
    Do not park on the ODD side of a non-Snow Emergency route until the street is fully plowed.

For more information on Snow Emergencies in Minneapolis, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow.

Spreading the word about Snow Emergencies

The City of Minneapolis uses a number of ways to help folks learn about and follow the Snow Emergency parking rules. We advise drivers to put several of these tools to use, not just one or two. The more ways you have to learn about a Snow Emergency, the less likely it is that you’ll be towed because you didn’t know one was declared or what you were supposed to do when it was.

  • Call the hotline – By calling the automated (612) 348-SNOW hotline, you can find out if a Snow Emergency has been declared. The hotline will include information on parking restrictions that drivers need to follow to avoid tickets and tows. The hotline includes information in Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.
  • Check out the City’s website – Go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow to find out whether a Snow Emergency has been declared and for a wealth of information on Snow Emergencies in many languages. Also, check out the street lookup, which lets you put in an address or a neighborhood to see where you can park during a Snow Emergency.
  • Mail – Every fall, Snow Emergency information is mailed to every household in Minneapolis.
  • Phone alerts – Minneapolis uses a phone alert system to notify residents when Snow Emergencies are declared. It is an automated notification system that can place thousands of calls per hour. Go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow/phone-alert.asp to sign up.
  • E-mail alerts – You can sign up to get Snow Emergency alerts automatically e-mailed to you. Go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow/esubscribe.asp for more details.
  • The media – News releases are sent to the media so TV, radio stations and other news outlets can inform their viewers, listeners and readers that a Snow Emergency is in effect.
  • On Cable – Tune in to cable channels 14 and 79. These channels will have information in several languages when a Snow Emergency is declared.
  • Facebook – “Like” Minneapolis Snow Emergency on Facebook. Go to www.facebook.com/MinneapolisSnowEmergency.
  • Twittertwitter.com/minneapolissnow. If you have a Twitter account, just follow us. Both the Twitter and Facebook pages will tell fans and followers when a Snow Emergency is declared.

Thank you for your partnership and cooperation.

We heard you

We heard you. You asked City Council Members and me to take action to help keep down the increase in your property taxes next year — and this week, we took the first step. Now I’m asking for your help in making sure we get it done all the way.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee approved a package that Ways and Means Chair Betsy Hodges, Council President Barbara Johnson and I proposed to cut the City’s portion of next year’s property-tax increase from the 7.5% that was reflected on the Truth in Taxation Statements that you received last month down to 4.7%.

We took some short-term and some longer-term actions to keep down increases in taxes. In the short term, we cut an additional $6.1 million out of next year’s budget, primarily by cutting or delaying debt payments or payments to other levels of government. But because some of those cuts will reap only one-time savings that won’t help us next year, we also took some cost-saving measures that are intended to help save taxpayers money in 2012, 2013 and beyond: we are budgeting for no wage increases for City employees for two years, and we capped non-personnel spending in the old Neighborhood Revitalization Program while assuring funding for ongoing neighborhood programs.

Even with these cuts, most residents’ taxes will still go up next year, in some cases by wide margins. This is because many of the factors that are influencing how much you will pay next year — skyrocketing obligations to closed pension funds that the City does not control, tens of millions in State cuts to Local Government Aid, the balance between commercial and residential property values, and the recertification of a special taxing district, not to mention the state of the economy — are out of the City’s direct control.

Even so, we heard you when you told us that we needed to try everything we could to find savings, cut the tax increase and ask everyone to share some sacrifice.

We take spending your money very seriously and we’ve worked to restore and maintain fiscal responsibility at the City. Over the last nine years, we have:

  • Delivered structurally balanced budgets that have matched spending to revenue not just one year at a time, but five years out;
  • Paid down $130 million in debt;
  • Restored the City’s top AAA credit rating with all three national ratings agencies;
  • Reduced the size of government — after adjusting for inflation, we will spend 7% less in 2011 than the City spent 10 years ago and will have 1,000 fewer full-time positions than it did 10 years ago.

Your advice and guidance through this period has been invaluable, and we have listened to every word you’ve had to say. Now I’m asking for your help again.

The City Council will vote next Monday evening on this reduction package when it votes to approve the entire budget. I encourage you to contact your Council Member to let him or her know where you stand on these choices and support our efforts to limit the increase in property taxes. Or just come and comment in person at the Council meeting starting at 6:00 pm Monday in City Hall.

Thank you again for your partnership.

Neighborhoods and taxpayers, working together

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis City Council Ways and Means Committee approved a set of amendments to the proposed 2011 City budget to provide tax relief to Minneapolis property owners, while balancing City leaders’ commitment to strong neighborhoods.

Minneapolis City leaders have been committed to investing in neighborhood revitalization, recognizing that the work done by neighborhoods is instrumental in strengthening our communities and providing a unique quality of life to our residents. However, the City faces tremendous budget challenges due to the downturn in the economy, skyrocketing pension obligations and $54 million dollars in cuts passed onto the City by the State in the past three years alone.

These factors have resulted in property tax increases in neighborhoods across Minneapolis, with many seeing double-digit property tax increases for 2011. Given this grim reality, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council Members collectively felt it was critical to find some measure of property tax relief on behalf of property owners.

The plan continues to provide funding for neighborhood organizations, while lowering the 2011 property tax levy, from the 6.5 percent maximum increase that taxpayers saw on their Truth in Taxation statement in November to a 4.7 percent increase. The plan, unanimously approved by the Council’s Ways and Means Committee, led by Council Member Betsy Hodges, takes a number of steps to cut costs within the City. In addition to those cuts, changes are proposed to the way neighborhood groups are funded.

The action:

  • Calls for the City to seek legislation at the state level consolidating neighborhood programs and eliminating the need for the Joint Powers Board (NRP Policy Board).
  • Directs the Finance and Neighborhood and Community Relations departments to allow neighborhoods to contract up to 50 percent of their NRP Phase II allocations. Neighborhoods that have contracted more than 50% of their Phase II funds will not be able to execute additional contracts.
  • Calls for the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, working with the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission, to report back to the City Council by March 1, 2011 on how programs will be implemented moving forward, with an emphasis on mitigating equity issues among neighborhoods related to the suspension of new contracts.
  • Directs the City’s Finance Department to report back by Feb. 1, 2011 with a plan to provide property tax relief in 2012 and 2013 by capturing only 50 percent of the value of the properties in the consolidated Tax Increment Financing district that provides, in part, funding to neighborhood organizations.
  • Directs Finance to report on possible impacts to Target Center funding, which is also tied to the Tax Increment Financing district. The Finance Department will also identify other options for property tax relief for 2012 and 2013 if the legislature does not provide the City with the authority to consolidate neighborhood programs.

To learn more about the cuts from the state, skyrocketing pension obligations, and the details on property tax increases in the city, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/city-budget/truth-in-taxation.asp.

This action will be considered as part of the overall budget by the City Council at 6:05 on Monday, Dec. 13, prior to the adoption of a budget for 2011. The meeting is held in City Council Chambers, room 317 of City Hall.

There are several important facts to note.

  • First, this action does not affect any current contracts. Existing NRP/City contracts will be honored.  
  • This action also does not affect any NRP Phase I allocations, whether contracted or not.
  • Finally, the action does not affect future funding of neighborhood organizations anticipated from the Consolidated Tax Increment Finance District for 2011. Today, the City Council approved the Community Participation Program and these funds will be available to neighborhood organizations starting Jan 1, 2011.

President Obama: keeping the core promise

Like most Americans, I’ve read a lot in the past couple days about the deal that President Obama struck with Republicans to extend unemployment insurance. While people are unhappy with different aspects of the deal, and above all with the extension of tax cuts to those who don’t need them, I think we need to focus on the essential point — and to me, it’s that President Obama is keeping his core promise to deliver help to the middle class.

Let’s review just a few of the highlights:

  • He’s cut the cost of healthcare and extended it for the first time to millions more, and made sure people won’t be denied for pre-existing conditions;
  • He’s kept down the cost of college, which is the ladder to prosperity;
  • He’s kept taxes down for the middle class, so that the middle class is paying less in income tax now than at any time in decades;
  • He’s extended unemployment insurance, which not only keeps struggling families afloat but is an important stimulus to the economy in itself;
  • He’s cut payroll taxes for the middle class so that people are taking home more money every month for their families, and spending it to help keep the economy afloat;
  • He’s reinvented the auto industry in this country, and hundreds of thousands of jobs along with it;
  • And above all, he’s kept the recession from being much, much worse by targeting recovery dollars where they were most needed.

These are just a few highlights, but they highlight the main point: the middle class is far better off today than it was two years ago, precisely because of President Obama. Barack Obama has gotten more done to improve the lives of working and middle-class families after just two years in office than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. There’s no denying it.

It’s true: as a candidate, Barack Obama said he would let the Bush tax cuts expire on the richest Americans, and that’s still his position. Believe me, I’m not crazy about having them extended, either. (I could get into the hypocrisy of Washington Republicans who drove the deficit into the stratosphere when they were in charge who are now pretending to be deficit hawks, yet have fought to extend the policy that is more responsible than any other for driving the budget into a hole. But that’s a topic for another post.)

But as president, Barack Obama is also a rational problem-solver who has thrown a lifeline to people who are suffering right now — and delivering for people who are in need right now is his job. A Republican president might not view that as his or her job, but President Obama does.

It’s no surprise that the Republicans chose to fight for more tax breaks for the richest, because that’s what they do — and as in any political comprise, everyone came away with something. (The only loser was deficit reduction.) But what’s most important right now is to keep families from slipping out of the middle class. And that’s what got done.

A final note: I know it would be gratifying for President Obama to stand up, veins popping out of his neck, and yell. We’ve all wanted to do that. But in the climate we’re in, we have instead a president who is focused on getting results, and who refuses to stoop to the level of vitriol of people who clearly don’t want to get anything done and are willing to let the middle class suffer. Barack Obama is delivering for the middle class despite obstinate Republicans, and that’s what’s important.

Mayor Rybak, Prosecutors, Law Enforcement Announce Drop in Gun Violence in Wake of Unprecedented Joint Initiative to Combat It

Since July, collaboration between prosecutors and law enforcement leads to indictment, conviction of key violent offenders — and 23% drop in use of guns in violent crime

December 1, 2010 (MINNEAPOLIS) — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, along with United States Attorney B. Todd Jones, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and Special Agent in Charge B.J. Zapor of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, today announced that the joint initiative to fight gun crime in Minneapolis, announced last July 22, has resulted in the indictment and conviction of key violent offenders, as well as a 23% drop in the use of guns in violent crime in Minneapolis.

On July 22, they announced Project Minneapolis Exile, an unprecedented collaboration between law enforcement and prosecution at all levels to get off the street and prosecute to the fullest extent possible the young-adult violent criminals, many of them repeat offenders with long criminal histories, who were heavily responsible for a surge in gun violence during the first half of 2010.

Since then, federal and county prosecutors have been meeting regularly with each other and with Minneapolis and federal law-enforcement officers to review all pending gun-crime cases and determine whether state or federal court offers the best chance of conviction and the toughest sentence.

As a result, in the four months since the initiative began, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office has charged 75 dangerous gun and knife cases, a rate about 50% higher than the 200 cases charged per year on average. Among the repeat offenders with long histories of involvement in violent crime against whom the Hennepin County Attorney’s office has recently won convictions with significant sentences are Martel Einfeldt, Joshua Jones and Paris Patton.

In addition, the United States Attorney’s office has charged an additional eight of the “worst of the worst” violent criminal offenders with offenses that if convicted, could land most of them in prison with 15-year minimum sentences.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said, “We are working closely with law enforcement, probation and our federal partners to make sure that we are getting the maximum available penalties for gun offenders. We are seeing great success from our increased focus and prioritization of gun crimes — yet we understand that for the victims of these terrible offenses, one crime is too many.”

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said, “In the last four months, we have indicted eight known criminals on federal gun charges and have a number of additional cases under investigation. Almost all of these criminals are facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. Removing these individuals from the streets, in combination with those being prosecuted by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, will go a long way toward continuing to ensure that Minneapolis is a safer community for all of us.”

County Attorney Freeman continued, “What’s new in the last four months is that the feds have stepped up to the plate in Minneapolis, more so than almost any other jurisdiction around the country.”

On the law-enforcement side, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan announced that in the last four months, the number of violent crimes committed with guns in Minneapolis has decreased by 23% over the previous four months. In addition, the numbers of robberies committed with guns has decreased by 28%. Dolan also showed that successful interventions like increased traffic stops in designated hot spots around Minneapolis has brought down gun crime in those locations by anywhere from 33% to 54% in the same four-month period.

In addition, Chief Dolan and Mayor Rybak noted that after a spike in high-profile crimes earlier in the year, violent crime overall in Minneapolis in 2010 is actually down 2% over the same time in 2009 — and violent crime in 2009 was at a 27-year low.

Chief Dolan attributed the drop in gun crime to doubling the number of investigators assigned to gun cases, and to the evidence-based predictive analysis that has become the hallmark of the Minneapolis Police Department. “We look on a weekly basis not only at where crimes have been committed, but where they are likely to be committed and by whom, then we target resources strategically on those areas and individuals,” Chief Dolan said.

“The best crime-fighting strategy is keeping a crime from being committed in the first place,” added Mayor Rybak.

Although Chief Dolan hesitated to draw a direct correlation between the announcement of the Project Minneapolis Exile initiative to combat gun violence back in July and the significant drop in gun violence since then, he did note that the drop “coincides” with the announcement of the initiative.

“Our goal back in July was to instill fear in individuals using guns, including the fear of prosecution,” he said. “Since then, the numbers of violent crimes committed with guns since then have been unusually low.” He continued: “When you take 10-20 people off the street who have been very, very active with guns, it does make a difference. We are taking the right people off the street.”

“People we kept seeing again and again” in the criminal-justice system “are now off the street,” Freeman agreed.

Special Agent B.J. Zapor of ATF specified that each arrest in a gun crime not only takes that offender off the street, but “puts heat on other violent offenders.”  He added that his agency is focused on tracing the origin of guns that have been used in crimes.

Mayor Rybak compared the joint focus on combating gun crime this year to the comprehensive youth-violence prevention initiative that the City and many partners began several years back. When at that time, there was a spike in violent crime, the City pulled together partners to analyze data and realized that violent crime was being driven by juveniles. As a result, they began the youth-violence prevention initiative, which has led to double-digit decreases in juvenile violence each year, including 2010.

Similarly, Mayor Rybak said, evidence-based policing and data-driven analysis led law enforcement and prosecutors this year to the conclusion that the source of the spike in violent crime in early 2010 was a relatively small number of young adults who had easy access to guns and drugs and who often already had long criminal histories. Since then, they have strategically coordinated their efforts on this group.

Indeed, the Mayor attributed part of the success in fighting gun crime in 2010 to the success of the youth-violence prevention initiative. As a result of the initiative’s success, “the feeding grounds for violent offenders is now smaller.”

Of the success in driving down gun crimes in Minneapolis in the second half of this year, Mayor Rybak said, “It’s a start, but it’s still only a start,” acknowledging that despite this success, there have been recent gun crimes that have shocked the community. “Anytime a gun crime is a committed, it’s a sign that we need to do more.”