Mayor Rybak, Council Retain Four Firefighters by Accelerating Permanent 2012 Budget Cuts

Action taken today raises to 35 the number of firefighter jobs saved from State LGA cuts, while maintaining budget integrity

September 2, 2011 (MINNEAPOLIS) — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council today unanimously approved a package of permanent budget cuts to keep on the job four of the 10 firefighters who recently received layoff notices as a result of the State Legislature’s most recent cut in Local Government Aid to Minneapolis.

Today’s action raises to 35 the number of firefighter jobs that the Mayor and Council have saved from the Legislature’s LGA cut. Two weeks ago, the City Council approved Mayor Rybak’s plan to use contingency dollars to save 31 of 44 firefighter jobs that would have been eliminated as a result of the mid-year, $23-million LGA cut.

The Mayor and Council approved a package of permanent budget cuts to currently vacant positions. Mayor Rybak will propose eliminating these positions in the upcoming 2012 budget. The funds saved by permanently eliminating these positions now will be transferred to the Fire Department, which will allow the department to keep four of the 10 laid-off firefighters on the job through the end of 2012.

“Today we reached a common-sense compromise that saves even more firefighter jobs simply by making permanent cuts now that I will propose for 2012,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “I proposed this compromise because Minneapolis firefighters are among our most valuable City employees in a workforce full of valuable employees. We have invested significantly in their success and their commitment to public safety and we want as many of them on the job as we can sustain financially.

“This compromise maintains the integrity of our budget while continuing to solve the problem that the Legislature passed on to us,” Mayor Rybak continued.

Council Member Betsy Hodges, chair of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee, said, “This is a fiscally responsible compromise, not a one-time gimmick that blows another hole in next year’s budget: it helps us to hold the line on property taxes next year while allowing us to keep more firefighters on the job now. The positions that we permanently eliminated today in order to keep four more firefighters are ones that department heads have told us they are willing to sacrifice while still providing our residents with the other high-quality services that they deserve.”

Council Member Don Samuels, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee, said, “All Minneapolis residents appreciate our firefighters’ dedication and sacrifice. The decision to lay off some of them was not made lightly, but was forced by the Legislature. I’m pleased that we are able today to keep several of them on the job and hope that all will soon return. I extend my thanks to all the departments that have sacrificed important positions to maintain this important priority, and place my full confidence in our firefighters to keep protecting our city.”

Fire Chief Alex Jackson said, “Even after the Fire Department’s share of reductions to the City’s workforce in recent years, we have maintained rescue, emergency and fire protection that is unparalleled in Minnesota, with good response times. Minneapolis firefighters are there for everyone who visits, works or lives here, whenever they need us and regardless of where they pay taxes.”

On July 21, following the enactment of the Legislature’s LGA cut, Mayor Rybak directed City departments to implement the additional cuts to the 2011 budget that the City Council had already approved in the event that Minneapolis received less than its promised amount of LGA. These cuts were the last cuts to the 2011 budget that had already eliminated 80 full-time positions in nearly every City department, with the exception of Fire and Police.

On August 9, Mayor Rybak proposed using contingency dollars to mitigate the effect of the mid-year cut on the Fire Department. Without that level of contingency funds, the Fire Department would have had to eliminate 44 firefighter positions. The Mayor’s proposal cut that number down to 13, saving 31 firefighter jobs.

On August 19, Mayor Rybak vetoed a Council action to use additional one-time dollars to temporarily plug the permanent gap that remained in the Fire Department’s budget following the Legislature’s LGA cut. He did so because the action was financially unsustainable, as it simply pushed an even larger budget hole onto the upcoming 2012 budget.

Today, the Council today failed on an 8–5 vote to override the Mayor’s August 19 veto. Nine votes were required to override. Voting to uphold Mayor Rybak’s veto were Council Members Lisa Goodman, chair of the Community Development Committee; Betsy Hodges; Robert Lilligren, Council Vice President; John Quincy; and Don Samuels.

The same Council Members then sponsored today’s action to save four additional firefighter jobs from the LGA cut, which passed on a 13–0 vote.

A full chronology of the City’s 2011 budget, LGA and LGA-related cuts is below.

August 16, 2010: Mayor Rybak proposes a 2011 budget that eliminates over 80 full-time positions in the City ofMinneapolis. Even with those cuts, the proposed budget assumes that State ofMinnesota will uphold current law and deliver on its certified commitment of $87.5 million in Local Government Aid toMinneapolis in 2011.

September 16, 2010: Mayor Rybak proposes a waterfall of budget cuts that the City will make if the State ofMinnesota reneges on current law and cutsMinneapolis’ LGA. The cuts are staggered in the order in which they would be made, depending on the size of the overall LGA cut. Near the bottom of the list are cut to the Fire and Police Departments.

December 14, 2010: Mayor Rybak and City Council approve the 2011 budget that eliminates over 80 full-time positions at the City — with the exception of the Fire and Police Departments. These departments benefit from the use of one-time dollars to forestall any cuts. However, cuts to those departments figure on the modified waterfall of potential cuts that the Mayor and Council also approve in the event that the State fails to deliver promised LGA toMinneapolis.

At a public hearing, scores of property taxpayers tell the Mayor and City Council that their property taxes are too high and their 2011 tax increases too big.

Winter 2011: Mayor Rybak holds a series of property-tax forums in the neighborhoods most heavily affected by property tax increases.

February 15, 2011: Governor Mark Dayton releases his State budget with no cuts to Local Government Aid.

March 12, 2011: Majority Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives propose not just cutting, but eliminating LGA — but only for the economic engines ofMinneapolis,Saint Paul andDuluth. Mayor Rybak calls Republicans’ proposal a “job killer” and a “middle-class tax increase.”

April 1, 2011: Mayor Rybak, along with Mayor Chris Coleman ofSaint Paul and Mayor Don Ness ofDuluth, writes to Republicans legislative leaders to call attention to the disastrous economic impacts of legislators’ attacks onMinnesota’s core cities.

May 24, 2011: Governor Dayton vetoes the Legislature’s tax bill that eliminates all Local Government Aid to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth, saying that the bill “makes unnecessary and geographically imbalanced cuts to local government aids.”

July 1, 2011: State government shutdown begins.

July 20, 2011: State government shutdown ends with the Legislature’s passing on a cut of $23 million in LGA toMinneapolis.

July 21, 2011: In conformity with the 2011 budget that the Council passed on December 14, 2010, Mayor Rybak announces that with the Legislature’s cut, the full “waterfall” of cuts that Council approved will be now implemented. This includes a cut of $1.45 million to the Fire Department — which, because the cut comes 60 percent of the way through the City’s budget year, is the equivalent of 44 firefighter positions.

The Fire and Police Departments become the last City departments to take a cut in the 2011 budget.

August 9, 2011: Mayor Rybak announces a plan to mitigate the effect of the Legislature’s LGA cut to the Fire Department by using $1.1 million in contingency funds, which will bring the number of position eliminations in the Fire Department necessary to compensate for the Legislature’s LGA cut from 44 to 13. Ten of the 13 positions eliminated will come through layoffs, while the remainder will come from mandatory retirements.

August 19, 2011: Mayor Rybak vetoes a City Council action to fill the Legislature’s permanent LGA cut to the Fire Department with temporary one-time dollars, saying that he is “strongly opposed” comparing them to “budget shifts and gimmicks that the state and federal government have used to address their budget challenges.”

Council Members who vote for the action nonetheless describe it as “not a good motion” and “a terrible way to do business.”

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